Social and Economic Interactions and the Structure of U.S. Agriculture
"Consolidation" and "concentration" are perhaps the most apt words to characterize the structural change in American agricultural production over the past three decades. This change continues today. In 2012 the total number of farms in the US decreased by 11,630 from 2011 and the total land in farms, at 914 million acres, decreased 3 million acres from 2011 (USDA Farms, Land in Farms, and Livestock Operations 2012 Summary).
The number of farms with hogs in the United States declined from almost 700,000 in 1980 to approximately 68,300 in 2012. At the same time, the percentage of hogs produced by the largest sized farms (greater than 5,000 head inventory) rose from 20 percent of total U.S. production in 1992 to approximately 62 percent in 2012. Similar statistics also exist for poultry and crop production in the U.S.
This shift toward larger production units and the substitution of chemical and mechanical inputs for labor have raised a variety of social and economic issues. For example, there are questions concerning the environmental sustainability of modern agricultural production systems. Low product prices, larger government payments to farmers, and increased use of alternative business arrangements such as contracting also have brought into question the economic and social sustainability of the current agricultural industry structure.
State governments have traditionally promulgated and enforced environmental policies with respect to farm level production. However, varying political forces across state lines have led to different degrees of regulation and enforcement. There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that such differences are responsible for shifts in livestock production to non-traditional areas (and less regulated) with less stringent regulation and often where there is little or no crop base to utilize the manure nutrients. Such shifts in economic activity may have social and environmental consequences that are not always in society's best interest.
US. USDA. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Farms, Land in Farms, and Livestock Operations 2012 Summary. N.p., 19 Feb. 2013. Web. <http://usda01.library.cornell.edu/usda/current/FarmLandIn/FarmLandIn-02-19-2013.pdf>.
Number of Hog Operations. Digital image. USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service., n.d. Web. <http://www.nass.usda.gov/Charts_and_Maps/Hogs_and_Pigs/hgoper_e.asp>.
"Hogs & Pork." USDA, Economic Research Service, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. <http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/animal-products/hogs-pork.aspx>.