Family farm or corporate farm – which is it?

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Common Ground is an organization of farm women who are sharing their personal stories and involvement in agriculture. These bright, energetic women are skilled in social media and how to talk with consumers. In a recent blog post on, the author described two scenarios and asked viewers to guess which one was a corporate farmer and which one was the family farmer. It might have seemed like an easy question. See what you think:

Farmer No. 1 works with her parents and siblings to care for the pigs on their farm. The family provides the animals with around-the-clock care.

Farmer No. 2 tends to her 650 sows in climate-controlled barns. Her farm continues to expand.

The author then asked, “Have you made your choice?”

The blog went on to explain, “The farmers described in the previous blog were not two separate farmers — they’re the same person. The farmer illustrated in both profiles was Jennifer Debnam, CommonGround volunteer from Maryland. That’s right, “they” are the same person.

“Along with her family in Kennedyville, Md., Jennifer raises 650 pigs from birth to adulthood annually. Each family member works hard to care for their animals all day, every day in order to make sure their pigs live in optimum conditions and remain in good health.

Jennifer Debnam’s family-owned operation is one of many American farms that have expanded over the last 15 years. Advances in technology allow the Debnams and others to care for more animals in a more efficient way. Other examples that can be seen regularly at are Erin Brenneman, who is part of a large family operation, and Katie Olthoff, who, with her husband, has a large turkey production business.

Because the Debnam’s and others like them have formed a corporation, they are often referred to as “corporate” or “factory” farms, but they are corporations owned entirely by families in many cases. Jennifer, Erin and Katie take pride in owning family farms, first and foremost.

A family farm that transitions into a corporation can make people assume family farms are nearing extinction. That is not the case. In reality, a lot of the farms that add titles such as LLC to their names are still completely family-owned. Often the LLC or title is put in place by the family as a form of liability insurance. Without it, farms can be subject to double taxing, or leaving their personal assets (like their home or cars) at risk if the farm hits hard times.

Incorporating the farm is a way of ensuring financial security in case of a natural disaster, bad crop or other financial problems. In fact, 96 percent of all farms in the United States are actually family farms.

If you want to learn more about family and corporate farming, check out Common Ground’s corporate farms food facts page. And the next time a consumer uses the term “corporate farm,” take the time to remind them what that really means.

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Paul Meers    
Missouri  |  March, 10, 2014 at 11:29 AM

You make a nice point about farms protecting themselves via corporate laws but lets hope Jennifer raises more than 650 pigs per year from her 650 sows.

kansas  |  March, 10, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Good point, and often missed, is that the American consumer/public is just as ignorant and gullible when it comes to the nature of Business in general, as they are about farming specifically. Cargill, for example, one of the largest Corporations in the world, is a Private Family Business whose stock is 100% held by the large extended family of the founders. And there are numerous other examples. They, like farmers who choose incorporation for tax and liability reasons (i.e., "business"), are often condemned for being Evil, Faceless Corporate Monsters bent on murdering their customers with poisonous products and destroying the earth. The masses of poorly educated simply accept whatever language "advocates" use to describe them because they don't know any better. So please continue to include basic, universal business education to your work for farming. It's just as important.


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