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Part 2 – Get Big or Get Out

There was an incredible shift in the 1970s which laid the foundation for Big Meat to really take off. One man in particular had a substantial impact during this time – Earl Butz (the newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture during the Nixon era), who was passionate about scale, size, efficiency, and profits. He coined the infamous mantra, “get big or get out,” urging farmers to maximize their land, buy more land, and grow more monocrops like corn regardless of demand.

Butz drastically changed federal agriculture policy and reworked many New Deal-era farm support programs while openly pushing the agendas of the many agribusiness firms he was involved with. He eliminated supply management programs that protected farmland and guaranteed stable food prices since the Dust Bowl era. Butz was proud of his work in the agribusiness space, stating that by “artificially increasing the demand for food, production became more efficient and drove down the cost for everyone."

The “get big or get out” mantra paired with government subsidies for corn and soy production over the past fifty years created an uneven playing field for small farms, eventually forcing thousands of small livestock farms to "get out" as they were gobbled up by bigger farms or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), commonly known as large scale feedlots for cattle, or confinement housing for hogs and chickens. Government subsidies for farmers to grow corn and soy were incredibly beneficial to CAFOs, since they now had access to these crops at prices below the cost of production – due to the government bolstering farmers net income by providing financial incentive to grow them.

corn field crops

Picture this – a farmer plants tons of corn and funds the cost of growing it, e.g., pesticide, fertilizer, machinery, labor, etc., and when it's time to sell the harvest it's hardly worth anything. The farmer doesn’t make any profit until the government swoops in and makes up the loss (writes a check to the farmer). With regard to CAFOs, this is referred to as an indirect subsidy – it’s not paid directly to them, rather to other crop farmers who benefit CAFOs. So despite the price of corn being in the tank (often from oversupply), the government paid the farmers (and still does) to grow it anyway to help keep the price of corn down, consequently keeping CAFOs costs down. It absolutely boomed

"Must they live over a ceiling over opportunity imposed by government programs designed to maintain small, inefficient, often peasant-like production?" – Earl Butz

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