Grain contract farming in the United States: Two case studies

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Mehrzad Boroujerdi


Grain, Contract farming, Industrial agriculture

Subject Categories

Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


Contract farming is not a new form of industrial agriculture. It has been present in several agricultural sectors for decades. Its wide-spread penetration into the corn and soybean sectors, however, is a recent development. Using two case studies, Vogel Popcorn and the Aurora Cooperative Elevator, this paper examines the impact of contract farming and agro-industrialization on Midwest grain farmers.

First, the farmer survey reveals that contract growers seem to benefit economically from contracting grain. Farmers indicate that contracting raises farm income and lowers marketing risk. Contracting also diversifies their farming operations. However, contracting does little to lower income volatility and actually raises production risk. It also appears that small growers are often locked out of contracting opportunities.

Second, the study finds that the agro-industrialization process challenges the Jeffersonian democracy notions of self-government and independence vis-a-vis land ownership and stake holding within the larger society. This, Jefferson believed, would help perpetuate our democratic values as a nation. However, with the continued decline in farm numbers, greater corporate consolidation, and the movement of farm decision-making power to global corporations, agro-industrialization has begun eliminating many of our traditional Jeffersonian democratic values.

For all practical purposes, like contract farmers in other sectors of agriculture, farmers are slowly losing control over production practices, crop ownership, crop choice, and witnessing a gradual elimination of the traditional open-market. This study addresses policy recommendations regarding how farmers and the government can confront these issues.


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