By Cassie Douglas, CAA volunteer
It’s no secret that small, family-owned farms are struggling to stay afloat, especially in recent years. This is especially true for smaller farms with business models that rely on animals and depend on the market for animals or animal products. Factory farms now account for 99% of the farmed animals in the United States.1 That means intense pricing pressures for farmers who attempt to compete in this space.
Sales of plant-based foods grew 11% in the past year and 29% in the past two years.
Good Food Institute
In addition to being stifled by factory farms, many smaller farms are now dealing with a blow to the demand for animal products. The Good Food Institute states that “dollar sales of plant-based foods grew 11% in the past year and 29% over the past two years. Comparatively, total U.S. retail food dollar sales grew just 2% over the past year and 4% over the past two years.”2 There’s no question about where the U.S. food market is heading, so farmers should make the transition to plant-based farming as these opportunities continue to grow.
Higher demand isn’t the only benefit to switching to plant-based farming. There is, of course, the reduction of animal suffering that goes along with moving away from a relationship with animals that views them as products or economic units. The cultivation of more plants moves a farm’s emphasis away from the confining, controlling, rough handling, mistreatment and slaughter that is tied to much of animal agriculture. There are environmental benefits, too. Plant-based products require far less water and emit far fewer greenhouses gases than traditional animal products.
Companies like Oatly, Hälsa and Miyoko’s Creamery are partnering with local farmers to help them transition. Oatly is working with farms that grow oats that are then used in Oatly’s oat milk. Eric Ziehm, who grew up on a dairy farm in New York, sees the potential for plant milk and has started growing oats for Oatly. He says, “It is not about cow milk versus oat milk; it doesn’t have to be a competition. I love agriculture … and I think there’s always going to be dairy. But the plant-based [product] fills a nice niche [and] it’s a valid option for producers that have the best interest of the environment in mind.”3
Agriculture Fairness Alliance and Vegan Justice League are two other organizations working for plant-based farmers. AFA’s approach has four pillars: fair subsidies, farmer equity, environmental protection, and food equity. These goals are accomplished through lobbying with groups such as Lobbying4Good; they provide money to “level the playing field between the people, corporations and special interest groups.” AFA also works to change which farms get the most help from the government. It’s usually the large corporations, since they produce the most product. Much of what is produced from these big farms isn’t even directly consumed — it’s fed to animals in feedlots.4
On the other hand, Vegan Justice League focuses on education rather than lobbying, although they do also partner with AFA and other lobbyists. VJL shares the tough facts on animal agriculture’s ties to pollution and deforestation. VJL’s main goal is to kick big animal agriculture corporations out of the picture to help both animals and the planet.5
Smaller farms are beginning to see that they can keep their farms afloat if they just switch their focus. They will save on resources and help save animals and the planet while still making a living for their families. Plant-based is the future; together with farmers and various organizations, we can be sure of that.
- Plant Based News. https://plantbasednews.org/culture/factory-farms-study/
- Good Food Institute. https://www.gfi.org/marketresearch
- GreenBiz.com. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/creative-programs-plant-based-milk-companies-help-dairy-farmers-transition-crops
- Agriculture Fairness Alliance. https://www.agriculturefairnessalliance.org/mission#data
- Vegan Justice League. https://www.veganjusticeleague.com/index#plan