We are often asked what we mean when we use certain terms. To clear up any potential confusion, below are our definitions of the words we use on a regular basis.
Family Farms and Farmers
The definition that we used for a number of years was “A family farm is one where the family unit makes the majority of the decisions for the farm, provides the majority of the labor and assumes all of the risk.” During the creation of the Agricultural Reclamation Act (ARA) in 2010, the farmers and ranchers felt that this wasn’t as representative as they would like, and decided that a better way to define themselves was by listing the values and attributes that define them:
- They are actively farming or ranching at a scale that is appropriate to their land and family unit;
- The primary producer is, or is working towards, obtaining the majority of their livelihood from the land, while taking on the majority of the financial risk;
- The family unit is making all of the management and operational decisions and the primary farmer is involved in the daily running of the business;
- The family unit is providing the majority of the labor. If outside labor is needed, the farm provides fair wages and good working conditions;
- The farm, ranch, and related business are embedded in their community and is substantially contributing to their local and regional economies;
- The agricultural practices performed on their land are humane and ecologically sound, providing animals with a high quality of life while enhancing the soil, air, water and wildlife;
- The operation evolves to accommodate each new generation of farmers;
- Diversity and resilience are represented through a variety of plant/animal genetics, farm products and the agricultural ecosystem;
- The farm and ranch products are qualitatively differentiated based on flavor, nutrition, production methods and geographic location;
- The status quo is not working in their interest and they do not feel that they have representation within the current agri-political system.
We believe socially responsible agriculture is an approach to farming that respects the land, treats animals humanely, sustains local communities and provides a viable livelihood for family farmers. Socially responsible family farmers and ranchers of Oregon identify with and are defined by many, or all, of the attributes of a family farmer (listed above).
It is our belief that it is neither natural nor sustainable to confine thousands or tens of thousands of animals in one location without access to the outdoors, fresh air, vegetation, or the ability for animals to engage in natural behaviors. We consider this standardization of animal agriculture and the concentration of large numbers of animals indoors or without access to pasture to be factory farming. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls these operations animal feeding operations (AFOs) or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
AFOs are agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. AFOs generally congregate animals, feed, manure, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures. Animal waste and wastewater can enter water bodies from spills or breaches of waste storage structures (due to accidents or excessive rain), and non-agricultural application of manure to crop land.
Large federal CAFOs meet the above definition of an AFO and confine at least 1,000 animal units. Animal units vary by species, but the EPA defines large CAFOs as operations with 1,000 or more beef cattle, 700 or more mature dairy cattle, 2,500 or more pigs, 30,000 or more laying hens or 125,000 or more chickens.
Oregon “CAFOs” and Why it’s so Confusing
A facility meets the state of Oregon’s definition (but not necessarily the federal definition above) of a confined animal feeding operation or “CAFO” if it provides for “The concentrated feeding or holding of animals or poultry, including but not limited to horse, cattle, sheep, or swine feeding areas, dairy confinement areas, slaughterhouse or shipping terminal holding pens, poultry and egg production facilities and fur farms;
(A) in buildings or in pens or lots where the surface has been prepared with concrete, rock or fibrous material to support animals in wet weather; or
(B) that have wastewater treatment works; or
(C) that discharge any wastes into the waters of the state.
This means that many farms with animals are considered to be an Oregon CAFO and are required to have a state issued CAFO permit, including all Oregon dairies that are licensed by the state.
FoFF is generally not concerned about Oregon family farmers who hold state CAFO permits as the law requires. Our concern lies with the growing number of very large, federal CAFOs that are moving into our state and threatening rural communities and family farm viability. Some of these operations are being permitted for 5, 10, and even 100 times more animals than the 1000 animal unit threshold that qualify them as large federal CAFOs. It is unfortunate that the the Oregon Department of Agriculture chose to use the same acronym as the Environmental Protection Agency and we believe ODA should find an alternative name for the state CAFO permit to prevent confusion. Read about Oregon’s CAFO permitting program here.
This is a type of agricultural production where the primary goal is to increase yield (such as bushels per acre) and decrease costs of production by exploiting economies of scale, leading to larger and larger farms. This approach has resulted in decreasing farm numbers and has forced remaining farms to become appreciably larger, more mechanized, and chemical-intensive. Farms participating in industrial agriculture often specialize in only a few commodities and sometimes have to enter into contractual relationships with processors through vertical integration.
Local and Regional Food Systems
Denotes a food system where food is produced, processed, distributed and sold within a relatively small geographical area or within a certain region. These systems depend on deep relationships between farmers and consumers, often provide farmers a higher price for their products, and aim to circulate money and create jobs within the region where the food is produced and consumed.