Can we have a quick-check on "corporate farming"? Its a rarity. Seriously. Corporations do not want to own farms because farms fail too often. There's a complicated sequence of operations in which corporations effectively own and control farms, but the big players are more than happy to let the guy-with-the-land-mortgage suck up the losses.

Okay, here's the brief form. You can't make money selling large amounts of ag product on the open market. There are reasons for this, mostly related to market development- farmers just can't find anyone who will pay to drive out and pick up their quinoa or broccoli. Outside of a few valleys, in South Texas and California, there isn't much of a vegetable packing, storage, and distribution infrastructure capable of handling more than a single truckload or two to the local farmstand or specialty restaurant. Specialty grains and pulses are even harder to unload, because the packing and redistribution points are few and far between.

The upshot is, farmers have to grow what the local elevator will take, and for virtually the entire continental US, that means the Archer-Daniels-Midland elevator, and it means corn, soybeans, rice, wheat, cotton or tobacco (which technically goes in a barn, not an elevator.) So Joe Farmer, who inherited three hundred twenty acres and some equipment, has to either go to business school and start his very own quinoa packing, warehousing, distribution, marketing and sales empire, or he has to sell a commodity product to an ADM elevator.

Now, commodity prices are artificially deflated in this country. That's why we don't spend much money on food, and why corn syrup is so cheap they put it in canned tomatoes. The difference is made up for with government subsidies, which are on a per-acre (rather than a per-bushel) basis. There are a zillion different subsidies covering everything from water conservation to feed corn, and farmers put more time into understanding how to fit the subsidy rules than they spend driving tractors. The catch is, to qualify for subsidies, you need crop insurance, and to qualify for crop insurance, you need a crop plan.

Now, what's a crop plan? A crop plan involves telling the insurance agent what you plan to grow, where, when you will plant, what equipment you will till, disc, and seed with, what herbicides you'll lay down, what fertilizers you'll amend with, what seed you'll plant, when you'll spray and how and with what, and when the harvest is. The insurers look at your crop plan, say either "this makes sense, looks reliable, and we expect you to succeed, here's a cheap rate" or else "this looks risky and weird, you might get eaten by armyworms, we'll charge you more to cover the increased risk" and there you have it- something to collect on if your crops fail. You take that insurance to the feds, they cut you a check, you pay off the land mortgage, and you're in business for another year.

Oh wait, did that sound rational? I forgot to mention that the company that insures your crops also sells herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, seeds, land mortgages, and financing on those chisel plows and seed drills. Think they're going to accept your crop plan if it doesn't use their products, in copious and expensive quantities? Fuggedaboutit.

So who needs insurance, though? Why not just save seed, plant a crop, sell it and take your chances with floods and blights? Nobody is stopping you- but you won't qualify for subsidies, so you'll have to sell at commodity prices which are, did I mention, deflated below the cost of production. And when you go back to renew your mortgage, because you won't have earned enough to make payments, well, do you think the guys you snubbed on insurance, not to mention chemicals and seeds, are going to lend you any money?

So fuck the commodity crops. Why not grow lettuce- its worth a fortune on a small plot, no? Yes, but assuming you don't also own a fleet of trucks, a refrigerated warehouse, and a team of marketing agents, what will you do with the other three hundred and fifteen acres? Land taxes cost money, y'know.

What about growing commodities, but growing them better? Sweeter sweet corn, tastier edamame-quality soybeans? Heirloom wheat? Could you charge more? No, you couldn't- you couldn't even sell them to the local elevator, because guess who owns that too? Making stuff come out of the ground is easy- making it go away on a truck, and have money come back later in the mail, that's the hard part of farming.

So after fighting that for years, and watching the GMO crops come up the year after you tried to rotate them out because of the armyworms, or watching the price on glyphosate go up and up and up (seriously- ask your local farmer what he's paying for roundup this year) , or watching the margins on an acre of potatoes (or peanuts, or whatever your local commodity specialty might be) get narrower and narrower, then some guy comes to the front door of your house- or trailer- in a suit and offers you eight million to build a subdivision on your land. And you think, holy shit, I could get out of this company-store racket for good, maybe take my family someplace with a decent school system and less meth, and you walk downtown to sign the papers. And what greets you? A bunch of college kids damning you to hell for selling out the independent spirit of the American yeoman, for giving up the sacred stewardship of The Land (and you can hear the capitals when they say it) and they call you a corporate overlord bastard and tell you your crops ain't fit to eat and we're a nation of slaves.

And you hate them. They're right.

That's a "corporate" farm.