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What is the Agribusiness Industry?

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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2016
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The agribusiness industry is a catch-all term used to describe every part of the modern food production system, from seed growers to supermarkets. This industry is divided into a multitude of subgroups, each with its own individual business practices and goals. Often, agribusiness industry is used to describe a specific agribusiness practice called corporate farming. A corporate farm is a company-owned farm used to grow crops at profit. The environmental impact and profit-oriented views of corporate farms have caused a significant amount of controversy at times.

When viewed as a collective, the joint goal of the agribusiness industry is to feed people and animals; in reality, the system is much more complex. Unlike some industries, the processes that create and sell food are rarely straightforward. Material is purchased for production, but yield won’t happen for months or years. The timeframe and land scale used are much greater than most other manufacturing systems.

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At the beginning of the agribusiness industry chain, there are production industries that create the things used for farming such as seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. Next come the farming groups themselves, which take the produced goods and use them to create completely different goods. This is in contrast to a normal supply chain operation, since many of the initial inputs are essentially destroyed in the growing process. Lastly, the produced food goes on to further production locations, where it is made into packaged food or goes directly to retail in supermarkets. In addition to all this, there are hundreds of other industries that are directly or indirectly involved in the process.

Corporate farming began in the mid-20th century. A corporate farm is owned by a corporation and ran as a business. Many food production companies create corporate farms as a means of vertical integration. Since their business relies on a steady supply of food material, they create farms to oversee the production and delivery of said food. To continue this process, they often have their own trucking and packaging companies, keeping as many of the processes in-house as possible.

When used to describe corporate farming, ‘agribusiness industry’ is often used as a negative remark. It attempts to create a line that differentiates a corporate system from a family-owned or small-scale farm. In many cases, the distinction created through this term is more useful as propaganda rather than an actual view on reality, as nearly all farms work for some form of profit, regardless of their scale or ownership.

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EdRick
Post 2

@jennythelib - There are plenty of things wrong with agribusiness, but it's not necessarily worse for the environment in every way. Your small farmer may have a long drive to the farmers' market with not much food, causing plenty of CO2 emissions. (And a whole lot more if he has regular customers driving out to his farm to pick up their CSA [community supported agriculture] baskets.)

And things can often be raised more efficiently in larger batches. The infamous "battery cages" in which chickens are raised may be unpleasant, but they are actually more environmentally friendly than small farms as the small farms use a lot more space and energy to produce the same number of (often smaller) eggs.

My point is that while small farming is attractive, it is probably not sustainable as a main source of nutrition for everyone on earth; it's just too inefficient. Agribusiness is here to stay. If you want to make a difference, research the farming practices of the bigger companies, write to them about it, buy only from the ones that you think have the best practices, etc.

Sure, have fun at the farmers' market. I like mine, too, and it sure has tasty tomatoes. Just don't think of it as saving the world!

jennythelib
Post 1

Obviously, most farms do need to make money or the farmer wouldn't be able to afford to keep it. But think about a farmer who does it because he loves it, even though he could probably make more money elsewhere, and who knows his regular customers at the farmers' market, grows locally appropriate food, uses sensible means to reduce pesticides, etc.

Compare that to the giant, anonymous commercial farm (and by the way, big commercial farms receive most of the farming subsidies in this country) whose only goal is to wring as much money out of the land as possible.

Now remember that this is your *food* we're talking about. Where would you rather yours come from?

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