Menu close

How Corporate Consolidation Affects Livestock Farmers’ Everyday Lives

Corporations dominate almost every sector of agriculture.

Whether it is growing grains or other staple crops, raising livestock, or producing milk, a handful of agribusiness corporations control a majority of the operations, making agriculture function like a monopoly.

This agribusiness consolidation and concentration has pushed farmers to get bigger and bigger, in the process destroying communities; polluting the soil, air, and water; and creating public health crises.

However, it all begins with how corporate power pushed out family farming.

“Thirty years ago, there were probably two or three hundred producers that raised a few hogs in the county. Now it feels like I may be the only one.”

You are a grain and livestock farmer in Tarroll County, Missouri. Your family has been farming in the area since the 1950s, and you have kept hogs for as long as you can remember.

Today, you raise about a dozen hogs annually, housed in what today is considered an old-fashioned way: in shelters with plenty of space to move around and go outdoors. 

Your parents raised chickens in the early 1960s but stopped once the market disappeared for small farmers. Now hogs have gone the same way.

Because of corporate consolidation, you just kept losing buyers, and your markets started drying up. 

Corporate concentration has hurt family farming.

The livestock industry is a prime example of monopsony or concentrated buyer power. The top four companies in their respective sectors control 83 percent of beef packing, 66 percent of the hog market, and 51 percent of the broiler chicken market. (Source)

Nearly 70 percent of hog farmers exited the market from 1992 to 2002, even though the number of hogs stayed the same. (Source)

Corporate control has led to factory farms.

Most hogs in Missouri are raised by the thousand inside giant confinement buildings for big corporations. They’re called CAFOS -concentrated animal feeding operations – and the animals are left in these buildings from the day they are born until the day they die. They never see the light of day.

They need to pump the hogs full of antibiotics because of all the diseases that spread when they’re so confined, and also because antibiotics are a growth stimulant. Those same antibiotics are used in people, but they’re no longer working because they’ve been used so much in the hogs that the bugs and the bacteria developed a resistance to it.

Your pigs have a lot more space and can go outside, so they only need antibiotics if they are sick. Of course, the new law requiring veterinarian checks on prescriptions is hard on small guys like yourself, since it makes it a lot more expensive when your pigs get sick, but it is not stopping the big corporate companies who caused the problem from pumping their hogs full of drugs.

Corporate control has led to factory farms (continued).

There are 25,000 factory farms in the US with 1.6 billion animals.

Since 2012, there have been 190 million more animals living on factory farms (a 14 percent increase) and 82 billion additional tons of manure produced annually.

This is equivalent to the human sewage generated by creating a new city of 60 million residents – three New York Cities! (Source)

Livestock Density











“These CAFOS are an environmental mess.”

On your farm, the manure from your hogs lays in the sun, and the sun kills the bacteria. But in the confinement operations, where the manure goes down into a pit, the whole thing never gets sunshine.

These confinements produce so much manure that they can’t get rid of it, and it goes into the water. The pollution of the water in Missouri has gotten really bad. Your neighbors who live next to these confinements have suffered too. Their property values have fallen, and they have gotten sick. You knew a farmer whose wife collapsed and had to go to the hospital because of this terrible smell from a confinement next door. Those confinement buildings produce hydrogen sulfide gas, and they blow it out in the air every day.

They’ve just ruined people’s lives. It just doesn’t seem right.

Your hogs don’t make people sick or pollute the air or water.

“An average vacant parcel within three miles of a CAFO in Missouri lost about 6.6% in value, but if a parcel with a house on it was within 1/10 mile of the CAFO, it lost 88% of its value”


Corporate control has meant the loss of fair prices for farmers.

With all of these CAFOs producing more animals than ever, the price of livestock has fallen so low it is almost impossible to make a living wage.

The first Farm Bill, which was part of the New Deal, guaranteed farmers a fair price – which was called the “parity” price – and allowed farmers to have small, diversified family farms. It was not economical to have a big factory farm because animal feed would have been too expensive. It was much more economical – and much more sustainable – to raise a few animals on a smaller farm.

But parity prices were not good for agribusiness corporations, and those corporations continually lobbied to get them cut out of future farm policy. Eventually, the prices of crops and livestock were put entirely on the free market, which is also when the factory farms and the corporations really started coming in.

With all of these CAFOs producing more animals than ever, the price of livestock has fallen so low it is almost impossible to make a living wage. And when livestock moved off the family farm and into CAFOs, farms lost use for grass and for other grazing crops like clover and alfalfa. That meant that you lost your sustainable crop which was also a nice income stream. Instead of producing a variety of crops, now most of the Midwest is focused on just raising corn and soybeans since those are the only crops with a market.

When livestock moved off the family farm and into CAFOs, farms lost use for grass and for other grazing crops like clover and alfalfa. That meant that you lost your sustainable crop that was a viable income stream. Most of the Midwest focused on raising corn and soybeans since those are the only crops with a market.

With prices for those crops so low, farmers are trying to raise as much as they can to make ends meet. That means that corporate farming has destroyed almost all the biodiversity in the state.

Corporate control has meant the loss of biodiversity and diversified farms.

Livestock production has shifted towards farms that rely on purchased feed rather than growing their own crops for feed.

In 1996, 29% (almost 1 in 3) of all crops were grown on farms growing 4 or more crops.

In 2015, just 19% (1 in 5) of all crops were grown on farms growing 4 or more crops. (Source)

“There’s nothing connecting us to the community anymore.”

The expansion of the factory farm model has essentially meant that the companies that process and pack meat actually own the livestock and control the terms of sale. So there’s nothing connecting you to the community anymore, and all of your money is going to these large corporations.

25 years ago, when this all started to happen, some of your neighbors were thrilled. They didn’t want to be salesmen, and even if they made less per hog, it was much easier for them.

But now, CAFOs are bigger than they ever have been, and the contracts are tighter than they’ve ever been – you must buy this feed; you must use this veterinarian; your buildings must be to this scale –and they pay less and less.

Then, you have a mortgage on your CAFO building, so the bank owns that, and the company you contract with owns all of your hogs.


Corporate control over the pork industry.

Four firms control 70% of the Pork Industry, giving them control over farmers’ operations (Source)

In the past 25 years, corporate contracts have dominated family farmers…

Just 3% of hog operations were raised under a contract in 1992, but in 2004, 28% of hog operations were produced under contract.

In 2017, 69% of hogs were produced under contract. (Source and Source)

Corporate control is destroying local markets and the future for young farmers.

At 65 and 64, you and your partner are the youngest people in your community, or at least on your three-mile road. The local school, five miles away, has only 47 kids in grades K-12. The church congregation in your town is so old that it doesn’t take barely any kind of weather event for them to cancel services.

There’s a line from the loss of markets for farmers and higher-priced inputs to what’s happening in your communities. You can’t blame the younger generation for wanting a better life. There’s just really no opportunity for a young kid starting out to get into farming without someone helping.

Given the consolidation of the market, you are one of the relatively few farmers still able to keep hogs without being a CAFO. You are a member of Patchwork Family Farms, a pastured pork cooperative started by farmers in 1992 and run by Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

Unless things change soon, and the kinds of work that Patchwork Family Farms does is drastically increased, in the next 20 years, you can see that all of the farming will be corporate-owned.

Corporate control over the beef industry.

Four firms control 75% of the Beef Industry, allowing them to dictate prices to farmers (Source)

Corporate control over the chicken industry…

Four firms Control 53% of Chicken Processing and drive overproduction and low prices for farmers (Source)

Our call to action…

Agriculture in the U.S. is broken at a fundamental level, and a key reason is continued corporate consolidation. A consolidated farm and food system has accelerated environmental destruction, including pushing us closer to climate catastrophe, leaving family farmers vulnerable to economic devastation, and undermining rural communities.

Stopping the ongoing consolidation is a necessary first step to fixing our food system.

To protect farmers raising the livestock to feed our communities, we need:

  • An immediate moratorium on agribusiness mergers and on all mergers and acquisitions for agribusiness companies, to begin untangling the consolidated mass that is corporate agribusiness. The Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act, last introduced in 2019 by Senators Corey Booker, would be an excellent first step, and moving forward, the US Department of Justice needs to roll back existing corporate consolidation and give space for the development of a resilient, localized and distributive food system.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency must establish and enforce protections for farmers, workers, and the environment. Issuing new, stronger GIPSA rules, modeled on USDA’s original 2010 draft rule, would be a good place to start.
  • CAFOs are a major source of greenhouse gases and are largely unregulated from an environmental perspective. That has to end. First, the emissions from CAFOs must be counted properly and regulated. Ultimately, they should be phased out altogether, as farmers begin practicing a more integrated farming system in which livestock returns to farms in a more ecologically balanced way.
  • New climate policies and programs focused on agriculture must be rooted in human rights, especially the human right to food, in order to prevent corporate capture of efforts to mitigate climate change.
  • A new federal farm program to guarantee farmers a fair price for their goods based on their costs of production, as well as incentivize conservation practices, to ensure the sustainability of our farmers, our workers, and our food system.
  • New federal policies, including support for community land trusts, that would provide young and marginalized farmers access to land at an affordable price, to protect family farming.
  • Federal support for regional and local suppliers, distributers and processers to provide competition and give farmers more choices to help keep their costs under control and keep the food system more diversified and resilient.
  • For farmworkers and workers elsewhere in the food system, more competition, stronger workplace safety protections, and a higher minimum wage are key steps to ensuring a living wage.