How Corporate Farming Impacts the Environment and Human Society

Corporate farming is first and foremost about making a profit. Corporations almost always use what is termed the conventional agricultural methods, that have  mostly developed since World War II, on large tracts of consecutive farmlands. They generally target their land acquisitions to agricultural regions where family farms are economically stressed due to temporary downturns in the value of the local crop. Utilizing the financial straits being experienced by the current owners, they can facilitate their own purchase of the land at relatively cheap prices. This only occurs when the farmland still has prime growing potential or immediately realizable real estate value, because the corporates’ profit-based motivation is attuned to the financial quarter or year.

The financial bottom line is the controlling influence on their behavior. The best farmland to purchase is that which is currently still capable of high production yields through conventional farming methods and is also sufficiently close to current urban centers so as to offer substantial profits through sub-division as suburban residential areas or lifestyle blocks, in the future. Recognition of the detrimental environmental impacts of conventional farming are ignored because it is not the intention of the corporate body to continue farming or even owning the land very far into the future.

Conventional agriculture is experiencing either reduced production or increased costs, often both. Farming monocultures, such as wheat fields, repeatedly on the same land results in the loss of topsoil, soil vitality, groundwater purity and beneficial microbial and insect life; weakening the crop plants and making them vulnerable to an increasing numbers of parasites and pathogens (disease causing microbes). An ever increasing amount of fertilizer and pesticides is required, as well as increased energy usage for tilling to aerate the soils and increasing irrigation costs as suitable water becomes in harder and harder to find or access.

While conventional methods may enable large increases in production yield on still viable farmland initially, and thus high profits, these practices fail to consider the future. Corporate ownership can ignore these factors because they function on a present rather than future conceptual basis. Suck as much profit as possible from the immediate situation, then offload any land they can’t sell as high-profit residential property as a tax write-off, a win-win situation from their perspective.

The steady increase in corporate farming using conventional methods in the last few decades has increased the destabilization of rural communities as well as speeding up the detrimental effects on both the farmland ecology and neighboring natural environments. Cost cutting efforts have frequently targeted farm workers; financial recompense for work performed has degraded significantly in comparison to other areas of human endeavor. This not only decreases the standards of living of the farmworkers, but has a flow on effect impacting the economic viability of small, rural towns.

Corporations have entered the agricultural field in the last few decades to make money. They readily accept seeds, whether genetically modified or not, from other divisions of the corporate body to use on their farmlands, reducing the biodiversity of crop plants. This reduction in commercially grown varieties of some crop species makes them more susceptible to extinction from plant diseases, accidentally spread by human agency from the small local areas they have previously been constrained to.

Corporate farming has a positive impact on the accounts of the corporate body, but it has a negative impact on the future viability of the farmlands they own, the rural communities in the areas they farm, and the environmental health of the planet that supports us all. They get away with it because they offer food at a slightly cheaper retail price, use their size to constrain sustainable competitors, and their economic power to influence and lobby the political powers that be.