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What Is To Big?

written by

Ben Simmons

posted on

July 16, 2023

In 2014 an investigative reporter by the name of Christopher Leonard published his book titled "The Meat Racket" The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business.

Most of his book focuses on Tyson. However, they developed the model that all integrators (meat packers) use today.

In Chapter 2 he tells the story of John Tyson as a young married man living with his parents in MO when the Great Depression hit and how his Dad basically told him he had to go out and make his own way as his farm would not support all of them. His Dad gifted him the farm truck and a bale of hay to use for gas money. John was headed to Fort Smith, AR where he heard there were jobs. He ran out of gas in Springdale, AR.

In Springdale he started looking for ways to make money with the only asset he had - the farm truck. He first started hauling fruits & vegetables from Springdale to larger cities. John soon noticed a new opportunity growing in the shadow of the orchards...some farmers were starting to grow chickens to sell into grocery stores up North. Within a few years John was running a steady pipeline of live chickens from AR to northern cities like Chicago and Detroit. Making up to $250 from a single haul.

Before long John signed a contract with Ralston Purina to become the local dealer - later he started buying his own ingredients and making his own brand of feed to the farmers.

However, the chicken market was unpredictable because the population of chickens fluctuated. When prices were good there were not enough chickens - when there were plenty of chickens the prices were low. And, John needed a way to steady his income. For Tyson, controlling the chicken farms was paramount to his success. By 1940 with the outbreak of WWII there was a huge demand for chicken.

Soon, Tyson had his own hatchery, farmers (called growers because they did not own the crop), and processing plant.

Leonard notes at the core of Tyson's strategy is an economic principle called vertical integration - which refers to the way companies buy up the outside firms that supply them. When a company becomes vertically integrated, it takes under its control and ownership all the independent business that once supported it. Tyson does not own the farms that supply it with animals, it does control them through the use of restrictive contracts.

Chris writes that Tyson's structure, and its dominance over all aspects of the rural economy, has delinked the corporation's well-being from the fortunes of the towns in which it operates. In towns like Walton and surrounding Scott County the per capita income has stagnated in Tyson's shadow, growing just 1.4% over the last decade to about $22,000. During that time Tyson's annual income rose 245 percent.

Tyson expanded their "poultry model" into raising hogs. Within two short decades America's independent hog industry was wiped out and replaced with a vertically integrated, corporate controlled model. Ninety percent of all hog farms disappeared.

Today, Tyson is a Fortune 100 company.

I look around today and wonder about companies like Butcher Box who just topped $600 million in sales. Basically a sales & marketing company that buys animals from around the world and resells meat. They do not own land, animals, infrastructure, deal with changing weather, and the endless daily things to do on a farm.

What about White Oak Pastures? While I have tremendous respect for what Will Harris has accomplished I have to wonder about comments he has made. For example, when we were last at his farm in 2016 his sales were $28 million with about 100 employees. Now, he has 187 employees (I have not heard current sales) and Will is quick to say he is not making any money. Well, there are several layers of management before you get to the actual folks doing the daily work. And, look at his prices compared to Nature's Gourmet Farm and you have to ask yourself "Why aren't you making gobs of money?"

At Nature's Gourmet Farm it is not about making money. Yes, a business must be profitable to survive. However, I firmly believe "family-sized" farms are the only sustainable model. We have no desire to be #1, the biggest, etc. Our passion is to raise nutrient dense proteins and sell to customers in our local area (within 125 miles max) so families can eat healthy and raise heathy children.

One of the things I have learned from farming is you don't build the fence for the 98% good times, but for the 2% when the cows are restless. For example, BB only ships. What happens (and it will happen again) when the shipper goes on strike? Or, the next pandemic happens and Tyson shuts down their plants? Store shelve are emptied.

All of the small family farms I know continued working and providing product to their customers during covid while the big guys shut down.

IF we had many many more small family farms then when one farm had an issue of supply then several of the other farms could pickup the slack until the issue was resolved. But, when a Tyson has an issue there is not enough "extra" capacity in the supply chain to make up the difference.

In our day and time it is so important to buy local (and we practice this with our chicks, feed, seed, fuel, repairs, supplies, etc. to the greatest extent possible). I want to do my part to help keep companies I depend on in business.

These are some of the concerns running around in my brain. Thanks for coming along today - I hope the ride made sense to you.

At Nature's Gourmet Farm, our intent is to create a community that will evolve around one of the most intrinsically important things of the ages, and that’s the provision of sustenance. That's our passion - to raise healthy food to nourish families and strengthen immune systems.

** Product Availability Update **

Chicken - Restocked June 28th. Next harvest date is July 25th with restock the following day. We will process again August 1st and 15th with restock the following day. By mid August we should be fully stocked on chicken. Processing will continue for twice per month for the balance of the year.

Eggs - Eggs are tight again. Will add eggs each Wednesday at 6pm along with any other items processed (like chicken)

Beef - Restocked June 22nd. Next restock will be about July 21st.

Pork - Restocked July 13th. We plan to restock pork again in August.

Lamb - Restocked April 28th. Next restock will not be until July timeframe.

More from the blog

Website Changes Coming

About two months ago Seven Sons announced they had SOLD Grazecart to POS Nation in Charlotte, NC. Our farm was in the top 5 to signup to use Grazecart back in December 2015. Back then it was very hard to set up... you had to work with the IT guy to program your site. Basically, flying by the seat of your pants. I had learned about Seven Sons and Grazecart during my time on the Board of the Grassfed Exchange Conference where Blaine was also on the Board. Additionally, you may remember that when we decided to add hens to our farm Beth & I visited Seven Sons to check out their operation. But, they (and we) perservered and today Grazecart is very functional and easy to "program" using widgets. So, the sale really saddened me because one of the compelling reasons we chose GC was that it was developed by farmers for farmers who market and sell direct to consumers. A little statistic - last year Grazecart supported about 450 farms. Our farm was in the top 25 largest users of Grazecart coming in around 22 or 23 if I remember correctly. There was no reason(s) given for the sale! The next communication came about a month ago stating POS Nation would transition Grazecart Stripe credit card process to POS Nation Stripe - again, no reason given. Farms were instructed to create an account on the new site and be ready for the migration to happen. All of this we have done. We are prepared, but have not yet been migrated. Then, this week several farms who had been migrated expressed disappointing results and lack of visibility on payments, payouts, reporting, etc. on the POS Nation site. I know when I checked my account status I could not log in. It took 4 email conversations over a 12-hour period AND then a couple of phone calls Friday morning before the issue was resolved. Late Friday afternoon the VP of Grazecart (POS Nation) emailed customers that the migration was put on hold until complaints were resolved. Additionally, this week - DRIP that powers our email marketing function communicated that Google & Yahoo email were cracking down on emails like our newsletters that are not delivered into inboxes. There are many reasons for this, but mostly folks are searching the internet and come across our website. They sign up to "check us out", and after awhile, decide to move on. Most never make a purchase. Some will make only one purchase and probably decide this is not what they are used to and fall away. Instead of using the "Unsubscribe" feature found at the bottom of our newsletter, they "Block" our email delivery. These are the ones that Google & Yahoo are after because these go into Spam folders and not inboxes. I am sure this is a big deal for email providers that cost them big money considering the shear volume of emails sent on a daily basis. That said, next week we will "Deactivate" about 288 DRIP accounts from ever receiving any of our emails. Well, enough of that for now! Remember, we showed pictures of the 23 registered Red Angus cows purchased from a ranch in WY? Well, they have started calving. Two of them this week. Here is a picture of the FIRST one. So glad we can celebrate this birth with our customers. At Nature's Gourmet Farm, our intent is to create a community that evolves around one of the most intrinsically important things of the ages, and that’s the provision of sustenance. That's our passion - to raise healthy food to nourish families and strengthen immune systems. If you are new to our farm then maybe you have been looking for premium ALL NATURAL GOODNESS of beef, pork, chicken, and eggs raised on pasture as God intended - with emphasis on Regenerative Principles and NOT conventionally raised animals (with growth hormones, drugs, chemicals, and antibiotics) - and where animals are treated humanely - then you have come to the right farm. Our delivery schedule and product availability are listed below along with order buttons that will take you to our website where you can browse over 90 product choices and place your order from the convenience of your home. It's that simple! ** Product Availability Update ** NOTE: Restocks are made about 6 PM on the dates indicated below! Chicken - Restocked May 8th. next restock will be May 23rd. . Turkey - Only have ground turkey and turkey wings available. Eggs - Restocked each Wednesday. We are well stocked on eggs - especially large at this time. Beef - Restocked April 19th. Next restock will be May 17th. Pork - Restocked fresh cuts Wednesday, May 8th followed by cured items (bacon) about 12 days later. Lamb - April 17th lamb did not work out. They were only 50 lb live weight or about half the weight needed for slaughter.

Updates & Musings From Farmer Ben

Last week I announced that we continue to have strong demand for our half beef custom orders, and that we have scheduled a harvest date for 6 "custom" beef with Homestead Farm & Packing in Lucedale, MS. Here are the key dates: April 27th 6 beef (12 halves) added to our website for orders. First-come, First-served. Customer pays deposit to reserve order. June 1st Cut-sheet due not later than this date. Best practice is to complete within a week of placing order. Cut sheet can be found at this link - scroll to the bottom of the page June 3rd I will deliver the cows to the plant.

Do You Need A Half Beef? Must Read

Before I get into the main topic, let me share that our new mama cows are going great. They are settling in and now curious when we come around. For example, last Monday Jared picked up a load of chips for our chick brooder bedding and while unloading they eased up to see what we were doing. Very cool! Next, we want everyone to know that we are mostly FULLY STOCKED on beef, pork, eggs, and chicken. Its been a long time since we were last able to communicate that. Exceptions are filet, flank, and hanger steaks. Who bought all of those filets?