Nov 23, 2018
It strikes me that there is little discussion in the animal welfare movement about outreach towards farmers. Most economists agree that the typical contract awarded to an animal farmer is a terrible deal for the farmer; it involves the farmer taking on a great deal of debt and bearing all of the risk, while companies like Tyson's retaliate against them if they complain and make them sign extensive non-disclosure agreements. I have been trying to figure out why it is that farmers sign these contracts to begin with. While there are surely many reasons including having no other options in their hometowns, I am convinced that part of the reason is that they do not fully understand how bad of a deal these contracts are. When I google or youtube search various iterations of "things to know before becoming a chicken farmer", the content I find is almost all positive. I wonder what the effectiveness would be of a short documentary (that does not even have to mention animal welfare) about the economic nature of contract animal farming. It could include interviews with former farmers, ag economists like C. Robert Taylor, and authors like Christopher Leonard. After spelling out how these contracts are bad deals for the farmers, it could talk about some alternative employment options that a typical would-be-farmer might pursue (it is not entirely obvious to me what these options might be, which I think is also a problem the movement needs to take seriously--for now it could focus on online employment options, plant-based ag businesses, moving to another location, and any other alternative businesses we might brainstorm). Then, this documentary could be put online and ads about the documentary that could be targeted toward would-be farmers.
In addition to new farmers, I am not aware of much effort to research how existing animal farmers could re-purpose their capital and skills for other businesses. I've seen two accounts of dairy farms doing this and found one older study about how chicken farms might do this, but I suspect the possibilities are far vaster. Once we had this research, we could send out a targeted ad campaign when prices for the target animal product are low. A key part of the anti-tobacco lobby's strategy was reaching out to tobacco farmers and helping them understand what other crops they could grow on their land and how to get started.
These issues have been brought up to some extent in films like Food Inc and in number of books, but I don't think they have been in the context of a clear targeted message toward would-be farmers. Instead, the message is something like "call your congressperson to change the system." The value of reaching out to farmers is not only have fewer farmed animals, but also fewer voters who are supportive of anti-animal-welfare and pro-farm-subsidy policies. I don't think it is as valuable as, say, researching clean meat technologies, but it can be done for fairly low cost by people with a different set of skills.