Is Industrial Farming Actually Good for the Environment?

A Brief Introduction

Industrial farming has been identified as one of the major causes for the Bee Crisis. Jayson Lusk, who is described as “a professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University,” recently wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times entitled, “Why Industrial Farms Are Good for the Environment.” The article is meant to persuade the reader of the benefits of modern industrial farming techniques.

While the article tries to be persuasive, the author avoids discussing several key counterpoints, which weakens the ethos built up in the beginning of the article.

The Rhetorical Situation

Author. As previously mentioned, Jayson Lusk is a University professor specializing in the field of agricultural economics. According to his website’s “About me” page, Jayson Lusk has earned both a Bachelor of Science in Food Technology and a Ph. D. in Agricultural Economics. Overall, he has a very strong economics-focused background, but not one that is focused on environmental science—and his economics background is exactly the viewpoint that comes across in the article.

Audience. The article appeals to a wide audience, but seems particularly focused on those who might have a preconceived bias against industrial farming.

Setting. The article has been posted on The New York Times’ website very recently, on September 23rd, 2016.

Purpose. The main purpose that Lusk repeats throughout the article is that industrial farming is both good and necessary. Lusk’s purpose seems more skewed towards persuading than informing. The following excerpt might be the best example of this: “From the 1940s to the 1980s, the number of farms fell by more than half, and average farm size tripled. A result is that romantic, pastoral images of farming from yesteryear are far from representing reality” (“Why Industrial”). Lusk presents this information in order to set up the persuasive portions of his opinion piece; Lusk repeatedly uses this strategy throughout the article.

Structural Analysis & Rhetorical Techniques Used

Lusk uses a mix of logos and ethos to construct the support of his article’s main point. Using exemplification, Lusk dedicates a good portion of the article’s beginning to painting industrial farmers as the good guys. Facts and percentages are thrown left and right. For example: Industrial farms only make up 8% of farms in total, and they produce 80% of the food sold within the U.S. (“Why Industrial”). Most of the exemplification and description used by the author is logically sound and enhances his credibility (also known as ethos).

However, Lusk often switches topics quickly throughout the article. Take a look at this example: “Their technology has helped make them far gentler on the environment than at any time in history. And a new wave of innovation makes them more sustainable still.” That sounds fantastic, how has the technology enabled them to be gentler on the environment and how will they become more sustainable?

Lusk starts a new paragraph and continues, “A vast majority of the farms are family-owned. Very few, about 3 percent, are run by nonfamily corporations.”

Lusk provides no evidence for his claim of gentleness and sustainability—this is called a red herring. Lusk’s red herring doesn’t help support his point, but instead weakens it.

Lusk’s most discussed sub-point in his article is technology. Hinting at how smaller farms are less sustainable than larger farms, Lusk says that:

“… Increased size has advantages, especially better opportunities to invest in new technologies and to benefit from economies of scale. Buying a $400,000 combine that gives farmers detailed information on the variations in crop yield in different parts of the field would never pay on just five acres of land; at 5,000 acres, it is a different story.” (“Why Industrial”)

Lusk’s statement logically makes sense, and it does strengthen his main point by explaining how much of a difference in scale there is between industrial and smaller farms.

Lusk continues hammering his point in via repetition in the very next paragraph: “These technologies reduce the use of water and fertilizer and harm to the environment” (“Why Industrial”). However, Lusk immediately switches the topic to modern seed varieties in the next sentence. He doesn’t touch on how the technologies reduce the use of water and fertilizer, or by how much.

The audience is left to assume that they just do. As I continue reading and analyzing the article, my trust in the author continues to fall.

One last, very important thing: throughout his article, Lusk quickly sweeps counterpoints under the proverbial rug. Water usage, as previously pointed out, is just one of the several counterpoints that Lusk does not really discuss. They are mentioned, and then quickly forgotten. Lusk uses the word “pesticides” only once in his entire article. Something that is potentially very harmful to the environment, pesticides, is ignored.

Conclusion

Lusk’s article starts out good, but he eventually loses some credibility (ethos) by the end. In my opinion, Lusk’s article was less about the environment than was first promised by the title—a good example of “clickbait.” Yes, industrial farming is very efficient, but why is it good for the environment? Lusk never goes in-depth about the more controversial problems that industrial farming faces, but just mentions them in passing and continues to defend his viewpoint by talking about current technology and vague possible technological advancements.

 

 

Works Cited

Lusk, Jayson. “About me.” Jayson Lusk. 2012, http://www.jaysonlusk.com/about/. Accessed 14 Oct. 2016.

—. “Why Industrial Farms Are Good for the Environment.” The New York Times. 23 Sep. 2016. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

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