The Dizzying Grandeur of 21st-Century Agriculture

The Dizzying Grandeur of 21st-Century Agriculture

Photographs by GEORGE STEINMETZ OCT. 5, 2016

From cranberry bogs to cattle feedlots, George Steinmetz captures the grand and disturbing nature of our expansive food system.

The Food Issue
Credit
The Food Issue
Dairy calves are kept in 4,896 individual hutches at Calf Source, in Greenleaf, Wisc. Credit Video by George Steinmetz

Our industrialized food system nourishes more people, at lower cost, than any comparable system in history. It also exerts a terrifyingly massive influence on our health and our environment. Photographer George Steinmetz spent nearly a year traveling the country to capture that system, in all its scope, grandeur and dizzying scale. His photographs are all the more remarkable for the fact that so few large food producers are willing to open themselves to this sort of public view.

Product: Cranberries
Facility: Bennett Cranberry Company
Location: Cranmoor, Wisc.
Output: Approximately 3.5 million pounds per year
Credit George Steinmetz for The New York Times

Cranberry cultivation began in Massachusetts, and it still brings to mind quaint images of New England. But the bogs that farmers have created in Wisconsin can be more efficient — they’re both flatter and neatly rectangular, making them easier for machines to fertilize, irrigate and harvest.

Product: Cranberries
Facility: Ocean Spray receiving and processing yard
Location: Tomah, Wisc.
Credit George Steinmetz for The New York Times

Lifts tip trucks to pour out their cranberry hauls. Ocean Spray, a cooperative owned by more than 700 growers, is the largest processor of cranberries on earth — last year, this facility alone took in 1.5 million barrels, nearly 13 percent of the entire global cranberry crop.

Product: Turkeys
Facility: Gary’s Gobblers
Location: Northeastern Iowa
Output: 150,000 turkeys per year
Credit George Steinmetz for The New York Times

During its busiest season, Gary’s Gobblers might have up to 60,000 turkeys living on five acres of its 160-acre facility. The worker seen here is spraying an antibacterial solution into the turkey pens to prevent disease.

Product: Dairy calves
Facility: Calf Source
Location: Greenleaf, Wisc.
Capacity: Approximately 10,000 calves at any given time
Credit George Steinmetz for The New York Times

Newborn females arrive from local dairies and spend their first 180 days at Calf Source — first in one of 4,896 hutches, like the ones seen here, and then in larger group pens. Trucks pass down each of 72 rows, dispensing water and milk. After a transfer to Heifer Source, another facility owned by the Milk Source company, the cows are inseminated and then returned — seven months pregnant, and just under 2 years old — to the dairies they came from.

Product: Carrots
Facility: Grimmway Farms’ Malaga facility
Location: Kern County, Calif.
Output: 25 million pounds of carrots per week
Credit George Steinmetz for The New York Times

Grimmway is one of the largest carrot growers in the world. In this part of the Malaga facility, whole carrots are washed, sized and cut into two-inch “baby” pieces before passing through color sorters — where 360-degree high-speed cameras and sensors spot defective carrots and air jets push them off the line for use in juices or cattle feed.

Product: Ready-to-eat salads and vegetables
Facility: Taylor Farms California
Output: 14 million pounds of produce per week
Credit George Steinmetz for The New York Times

Taylor Farms doesn’t grow vegetables — it processes them, taking produce from some 200 farms and and preparing products consumed by one in three Americans. This entire facility follows the lettuce-growing season, moving 1,400 tons of machinery from Salinas, Calif., to Yuma, Ariz., in November, then back again in April. Each move only interrupts processing — like the washing lines seen here — for 56 hours.

Product: Cattle
Name: Simplot Cattle Feedlot
Location: Grand View, Idaho
Capacity: 150,000 head of cattle
Credit George Steinmetz for The New York Times

By World War II, the J.R. Simplot Company had become the nation’s largest shipper of fresh potatoes; by 2005, it was said to be the source of more than half of all McDonald’s French fries. This 750-acre feedlot resulted from a realization by its billionaire owner, John Richard Simplot, that he could also use the waste products of his potato operation to fatten cattle.

Product: Greens and other produce
Facility: Tanimura & Antle
Location: Salinas, Calif.
Output: 740,000 tons of produce in 2015
Credit George Steinmetz for The New York Times

The product being harvested here, Artisan Lettuce, requires seeding a variety of greens in each row — scheduling them all to come to maturity simultaneously — so they can be packaged in the field and sold as a salad-ready assortment.

Product: Beef, pork, veal and lamb cuts
Facility: Omaha Steaks main plant
Location: Omaha
Output: 7 million pounds of meat per year
Credit George Steinmetz for The New York Times

(Left) Throughout the day, employees at the plant do a series of ergonomic stretches to prevent injuries. (Right) Cuts of meat are hand-trimmed by some of the plant’s 175 employees.

Credit George Steinmetz for The New York Times
Product: Fish
Facility: Glacier Fish Company’s Alaska Ocean
Location: Eastern Pacific Ocean
Average daily catch: 150 metric tons


Credit Video by George Steinmetz

(Above) At 376 feet, with a net more than half a mile long, the Alaska Ocean is the largest “catcher-processor” vessel in the United States fleet. (Below) On a given day, the ship’s facilities might process Alaska pollock or Pacific whiting into 60,000 pounds of fishmeal and 125,000 pounds of frozen fish — to appear in fish burgers, fish sticks and surimi, a minced fish product used to make foods like imitation crab sticks.

Product: Milk and dairy
Facility: Rosendale Dairy
Location: Pickett, Wisc.
Output: 8,376,000 pounds of milk per year — approximately one million gallons
Credit George Steinmetz for The New York Times

The two rotating carousels of this milking parlor operate 22 hours a day, milking 7,900 cows three times each. Rosendale Dairy, like Calf Source and Heifer Source, is owned by Milk Source.

Product: Pigs and dairy cows
Facility: Fair Oaks Farms
Location: Fair Oaks, Ind.
Output: 80,000 to 90,000 piglets per year and 30,000 calves per year
Credit George Steinmetz for The New York Times

Fair Oaks Farms is both a working farm and an educational tourist attraction, with a Pig Adventure area showing visitors the seven-month cycle, from birth to sale, of a pig. Here, sows are penned on their sides when nursing, while piglets spend the majority of each day feeding and growing rapidly.

Product: Organic baby greens
Facility: Earthbound Farm
Location: Near Hollister, Calif.
Output: 150 million to 200 million pounds per year
Credit Video by George Steinmetz

The “baby greens” harvester used at Earthbound Farm, with its self-sterilizing blade and air-jet collecting mechanism, can harvest 10,000 pounds of lettuce per hour using a crew of only 12 — something that once would have taken a 40-person crew all day. Four workers advance on foot, checking for debris and scaring away pests before the machine arrives. Harvesting begins before dawn and concludes before midday, to keep the greens cooler.

George Steinmetz is a photographer who specializes in aerial photography. He has published several books of his photographs, including “New York Air,” a documentation of all five boroughs of New York City from above.

Credit

Why Did the Obamas Fail to Take On Corporate Agriculture?

Activists hoped President Obama would fight for stronger regulation. Eight years later, they’re still waiting.

By MICHAEL POLLAN
Credit

Is It Possible to Make a More Healthful Frozen Pizza?

And even if you could, would anyone want to eat it?

By CORBY KUMMER
Credit

The Fight Over Transparency in the Meat Industry

Undercover watchdogs have touched off a battle for true openness in the factory farm system — and everyone is losing.

By TED GENOWAYS
Credit

The Quest to Make a True Blue M&M

In an effort to remove artificial colors from their products, the Mars company is tinkering with the chemistry of some of America’s most beloved candies.

By MALIA WOLLAN

Produced by Rodrigo de Benito Sanz, Jeannie Choi and Linsey Fields.
Photo editor: Christine Walsh.

More on NYTimes.com


SHARE THIS
Previous Post
Next Post