Opinion: The word “industrial” is wrong fit for agriculture

Midwest Farm

(WFRV) – Casco farmer Don Niles joins Millaine Wells in studio for a conversation about the words used to define large dairy farms in our state. 

He sent the following opinion letter to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 

I read with interest the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s article headlined “industrial dairy farming is taking over Wisconsin’s milk production, crowding out family operations and raising environmental concerns.” 

While I expected to see the word “industrial” used to describe large modern dairies, I was surprised to see that the reporters (Lee Bergquist and Rick Barrett), used it 16 times. As a dairy farmer and proud owner of one of the farms mentioned I feel that the word suggests a soulless, grim, unfeeling enterprise. This would not describe my farm, nor almost any dairy of any size I have ever been privileged to visit. The fact is that dairying, no matter the size of the farm, is hard work that demands the owner’s total commitment. If you don’t love your cows or the environment enough to care for them properly, you will soon be doing something else for a living.

I have never been clear why “industrial” is used to connote large farms, but not large hospitals, schools or stores. In each case, the business is trying to find the right size to be efficient and competitive in the modern world. I remember the comfort when growing up of having a local medical clinic with two doctors who knew and took care of my whole family. This does not mean, however, that I don’t also highly value the very large medical enterprise that includes my current doctor.

Dairy farmers try to find the strategy that works best for their families. In some cases, it may be a large farm to support several generations and skill sets. In others, it may be an organic system that can earn a higher milk price. The only strategy that doesn’t work is to try to do things just the way you did 50 years ago.

It seems to me that the article describes a farm as “industrial” if it is larger than traditional operations, designed to capture production efficiencies, sometimes formed by combining several smaller operations and perhaps lacking the familiar touch of the old model. Is it fair then to label the entity that prints this article in the Journal Sentinel, Green Bay Press Gazette and other local newspapers — part of the largest newspaper publishing chain in the country — as an “industrial news CAFO”?

Don Niles


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