New avenues of farm corporatization in the prairie grains sector: farm family entrepreneurs and the case of One Earth Farms
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- Magnan, A. Agric Hum Values (2012) 29: 161. doi:10.1007/s10460-011-9327-9
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This paper addresses longstanding debates around changing patterns of farm ownership and structure on the North American plains. Over the last 150 years, the agrifood system has been transformed by a process of capitalist penetration through which non-farm capital has appropriated key links in the ‘food chain’. Today, large, often transnational corporations dominate in the provision of farm inputs, as well as in food processing, distribution, and retailing. The paradox for food system scholars has been that primary food production (i.e., farming) has generally remained in the hands of independent, family-based operations, especially in the grains sector. This paradox has generated a substantial literature on the barriers to capitalist penetration in agriculture. I revisit these debates in light of two recent trends. First, I highlight the emergence of a class of farm family entrepreneurs comprised of very large, albeit family-owned, grain farming operations, in Saskatchewan. I provide a case study of a vertically integrated, family-based mega-farm to illustrate. Second, I discuss the implications of the launch of One Earth Farms, a corporate farming entity embodying altogether new strategies of land use, labor, and ownership. Structured as a partnership between a Toronto-based investment firm and nine First Nations bands, One Earth Farms brings together the interests of private investors who increasingly view agriculture as a profitable resource sector, and aboriginal communities hoping to redress the historical marginalization of First Nations farming. I interpret the significance of these new avenues of corporatization for “family farms” and prairie agricultural development.