I am the face of the industrial food producer. It is not a crow, not an “elaborate façade,” as you at Chipotle, say. It is me, my parents, my family, and the farmers across the nation. We are business owners, salespeople, job providers, environmentalists, community organizers, and animal caretakers.
I’m a 6th generation family farmer in Greene County, Illinois. We raise corn, soybeans, cattle, and hay. We work every day to use fewer chemicals, raise better crops, and take care of our animals. The new Chipotle infomercials paint a disturbing picture of our farm. It hits home at two controversial topics; our method of mass crop production, and the humane treatment of animals.
First, let’s discuss crop production. We produce GMO crops. The plants are genetically modified with traits that can resist certain pests, diseases, or chemicals. Some farmers plant non-GMO crops. Seed costs are less, and they receive a premium (sometimes) at the elevator. But, the non-GMO crops do not have resistance to pests such as corn borer. If the corn ends up with corn borer, fields cans suffer if the farmer does not catch it in enough time to spray. Spraying equals more money, time, chemical spray, and fuel usage on the farm. If non-GMO is not the answer, why not organic? We transitioned 300 acres to organic in 2006. We did that because we saw organic demand increasing and potentially better prices. What happened? We could not apply chemicals to organic crops, so we ended up making several more tillage trips, which used fuel, equipment, time, and money. Even more so, yields were around 100 bushels per acre, compared to the 160 bushel average for our county. The price received was not profitable and we could not financially justify producing organically. If all “industrial food producers” produced organically, food production would decrease, and food prices increase. It’s Economics 101. Thus, we plant GMO crops and use OUNCES per acre of chemicals, compared to POUNDS per acre years ago.
Next, let’s chat about the humane treatment of animals. Millions of consumers who have viewed The Scarecrow might potentially think that farmers poke their animals with antibiotics until the point they almost blow up! We use growth hormones for our feedlot cattle. The hormones are primarily estrogen, naturally occurring hormones, and we implant tiny pellets in the ear. They increase the rate of gain from say 2.3 pounds to 2.7 pounds per day. If there were no hormones, there would be a lot less food for the world and our farm could also be less profitable. Growth implants are humane, safe, business decisions. We feed our cattle well; they have a nutritious ration of corn by-products, corn, fresh grass hay, and mineral early each morning. They have an abundance of water pumped from a pond we built. Dad and I are Certified Livestock Managers, trained on proper manure management and animal husbandry. We have buffer strips so our manure runoff is next to nothing. We harvest manure from the lots and spread it as fertilizer on nearby fields. What is more “organic” than that!? The cattle are processed at a plant in a humane way. Remember the bloated chicken from the infomercial? They are processed and die, but it is in a much more humane way than in the past. My grandma in Hillview raised chickens for her home until the 1950’s. She “processed” the chickens by chasing them down in the yard, gigging them, taking a hold of their heads and twisting their necks until the bodies popped off. They were organic chickens for sure, but they suffered a lot more in “processing” than they do today.
At the end of the video, the scarecrow finds a beautiful pepper in the desert, creates a delicious meal, and takes that one meal to the city. This is reminiscent of the good old days. Farmers put their crops in the back of the truck and went to town. Farmers could provide for their families off of 40 acres and a few livestock. The country was more agrarian, but crop and livestock yields were fractions of what they are today. We spend less than 10% of our income on food. If we went back to that kind of agrarian lifestyle, we would end up with little food at sky high prices.
Chipotle’s tagline is “cultivating a better world.” Chipotle is not cultivating a better world, I am, in little ole Greene County.