24 March 2008

CAFO Survey This Week

Starting tomorrow my Research Methods class is starting its survey of county residents about CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). In our county they're mostly dairy farms run by Dutch immigrants, with one hog farm, and each operation having between 700 and 1500 animals.

They're very controversial, as they allegedly have difficulty managing the waste in a way that keeps it out of our rivers. The river that flows through our town (1 block from my house) has elevated levels of E. coli. This mostly comes from spraying semi-liquid waste on the fields, which has the dual benefit of allowing the CAFOs to get rid of it and providing crucial nitrogen for growing crops, but the drawback of sometimes draining into surface water. They're also controversial because Americans are still in love with the myth of the pastoral family farm, and hate "factory farming," or "corporate agriculture." The anti-CAFO forces are quite vocal around here, but it's not clear that it's more than a handful of activists, especially as this is a very conservative county.

But starting tomorrow, we'll find out what the average county residents think. Besides allowing me to have research assistants for something I'm interested in, it gives the students a chance to experience how frustrating real data collection can be, but also gives them a chance to write up the results and take them to a conference, or try to get them published--either of which would look very good on a grad school application.

But I've never done survey research before, and I really don't like talking on the telephone that much, especially to strangers. Other than ordering pizza, I usually let my wife make the business calls. So it could be a very stressful experience, although I hope not.

I'll post bits of results when we get the data entered.


James K said...

The interesting thing about intensive farming is that there would be a lot less of it if agricultural trade was liberalised, as farming would move toareas with more available land.

I understand that many Americans support agricultural subsidies because they are still in love with the myth of the pastoral family farm.

Ironic, isn't it?

James Hanley said...

It's especially ironic, because in practice those subsidies go mostly to large agribusinesses--so the actual effect is to harm family farms by giving their already-more-efficient competitors a subsidy.

Re: your first paragraph. I'd like to hear more of your argument there. Granted that I'm a pretty staunch free-trader, how much arable land is not being already used? Or are you thinking of more intensive use of currently under-utilized arable land?

James K said...

Its all to do with the law of comparative advantage. A country with lots of very fertile land will tend to have a comparative advantage in farming. That means that in a free trading world farming tends to gravitate toward fertile countries, that have less need to rely on intensive farming.

Case in point, all NZ beef and lamb is grass fed. This isn't some pro-nature thing, its just that when you have as much grass as we do, why use corn?

If the US were to lower its agricultrual trade barriers, some of your farming would migrate from the US to places like New Zealand. This would mean less intensive farming.

Its not about whether land is arable or not, but rather how arable it is.