26 April 2015 - You Are Not Alone

If you’re in the business of farming or ranching today, you are not doing it alone. You have partners, like it or not, who didn’t even exist when I was growing up on the farm. Corporations who provide you with goods and services and corporations who buy what you produce are having a bigger hand in your decision-making. Environmental groups like PETA and HSUS, and then government agencies like OSHA and the EPA are all involved in your decision-making on how you raise crops or livestock.

That was brought to my attention this week as I looked at the earnings report of the Chipotle Mexican Grill. The burrito chain, which sets strict animal welfare rules for its producers and suppliers, said they have had the slowest growth in five quarters. And they are expecting an impact on sales for the rest of the year as a result of their action in January when they turned away from a pork supplier who was not following their animal welfare rules on the farm. They stopped buying from that supplier and that, in effect, took pork off the menu in one-third of their 1,800 restaurants. The decision hurt the company because pork is a key ingredient on their menu.

Despite the negative impact on sales, Chipotle will not change and will continue to be involved in a pork producer’s operation. If you don’t follow their production rules, they stop buying from you. Even those who do follow the rules are troubled by some of them. David Maren, who produces hogs for Chipotle in Virginia, says it’s not a problem to discontinue using antibiotics or growth-promoting drugs, but then he talked about the difficulty in giving up slatted floors and farrowing crates, which are firm“no-nos’ in the Chipotle rules.

David said when it comes to farrowing crates, confining a sow may look inhumane, “ . . . but the alternative is, if you put a picture right beside that of a farmer walking out of his alternative farrowing house with a five-gallon bucket full of dead baby pigs, you have to ask yourself, which is more humane? The purpose of the farrowing crate is to protect the baby pigs.”

In another action this past week, McDonald’s Corporation said it would stop buying from those producers and companies involved in deforestation to produce some of the products purchased by McDonald’s, including beef, coffee, palm oil, poultry and packaging. It is a trend that is not going away, companies setting more production rules for farmers and ranchers; follow them and they’ll buy from you, ignore them and you may be out of business. You are not farming alone any more.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.