Pro-Farmer State Strategy: Reconcile Farm Justice with Sustainability

Pro Farmer State Strategy: Reconcile Farm Justice with Sustainability

Here is a proposal for state level strategy to take back the rural vote and fix the farm and food system. It counteracts key approaches through which the Republicans have been winning the farm vote, even though they’re policies and programs have been devastating for farmers and the rural economy, (not to mention environment, climate, public health, animal welfare, and other concerns). The economy was a top priority for voters last time around, and it’s the place where Democrats, and especially progressives, were weak. On the other hand, a focus on the rural economy is probably the most winnable thing that Democrats, especially progressives, can do.

FEDERAL CONTEXT

All of this is in the context of the policies and programs of the federal farm bill, which was great on the core issues from 1942-1952, but which Congress/Presidents reduced (1953-1995) and eliminated (1996-2018). This is the price issue, (which is falsely misunderstood in the dominant narrative and the dominant alternative narrative as the farm subsidy issue). The early programs featured minimum price floors (similar to living wage,) backed up by inventory management to balance supply and demand. That’s primarily a federal issue. THE FOCUS HERE IS ON STATE LEVEL ISSUES, which have their own needs and priorities.

This is a quick draft, so it’s a bit repetitive, focusing on a few key issues in simple ways.

WHAT TO DO

ECONOMICS

A major key to winning is to beat the Republicans (and compromising Democrats) on farm economics. Emphasizing farm and rural economics is much more important to taking back the rural vote than the lists of other progressive issues, (no matter how excellent, i.e. on organic and local food). While many issues are well geared to getting support from those who will vote for you anyway, what’s been missing are leaders who ALSO can take back significant chunks of the rural vote.

QUESTIONS

The key is to fix things in ways that clearly help farmers, that are clearly pro-farmer. So look at what rural candidates are doing and saying, for example at the state level, and ask them:

What are you doing for farmers and the rural economy? (Probably not much.)

Most farms have lost livestock under the current system, and most of the hogs, for example, that are still on farms are owned by a tiny few corporations, by just 4 corporations in fact, such as the Chinese company Smithfield WH Group, (formerly Shuanghui International). Do you support that system, (do you support the 4 corporations,) including Chinese ownership of US hogs? (This is a key area where Republicans have incredibly weak answers, but may have never faced the questtion in this way.)

Do you believe that deregulated free markets work for agriculture? (This especially applies at the federal level, but is so helpful that it should be used at the state level as well. No, these markets haven’t worked very well at all, for 160 years, and right into the 21st century, and projected ahead for another 10 years.)

PLANK

Whereas the state and national farm economy has been devastated by decades of increasingly counterproductive Republican policies and programs, my plan to help farmers (at the state level) is to reverse the pro-CAFO policies and programs, and provide new incentives in the opposite direction. Ultimately, I want much more than a moratorium on CAFOs. I want to see strong incentives to bring livestock out of CAFOs and back to farms, and in diversified ways, where they utilize grass, alfalfa and clover, to strongly support resource conserving crop rotations, giving farmers more freedom, and especially, reducing the costs of farming, by reducing the need to purchase fertilizers and pesticides.

Here’s another example of wording to make these points.

Whereas free markets have lead to a devastating loss of freedom for farmers, including the loss of the livestock option on most farms and the loss of the options for the best resource conserving, multi-year crop rotations, making farmers much more dependent on both the agribusiness output complex, (buying from farmers,) and the agribusiness input complex, (selling to farmers,) with the CAFO complex taking most value added livestock away from farmers, …

More examples of wording.

Whereas CAFOs hurt rural (Illinois) public health, environments, economies and communities, we/I support a reversal to all incentives for CAFOs, including economic incentives, lenient regulations and nuisance lawsuit protections, and in contrast we support measures in support of family-farm-sized and diversified farms.

Whereas (Illinois/US/etc.) livestock production is increasingly owned by a tiny number of giant corporations, including the Chinese, (Shuanghui International,) massively taking value-added livestock away from diversified family-sized farms, leaving them with only low-value corn and soybean production, thus devastating resilience and making farms more dependent upon purchases of inputs from giant corporations, we support measures that will bring livestock diversity back to most independent family-sized farms.

WHAT NOT TO DO

The key thing NOT to do is blame the problems ultimately on farmers, or limit solutions to those that further penalize farmers. Why? Because 1. it is the penalization and exploitation of farmers that has created the problems, and 2. the first and most direct victims are farmers themselves.

This is a big challenge, as the dominant narrative strongly leads us to blame farmers, to push farmers to vote for the Trump Republicans, against their authentic farm interests.

Examples. Don’t just call for further regulation of farmers, for example regarding the environment, and don’t call for regulations first. Your top priority must be support for economic revival for farmers and then that leads to economic revival for rural towns. Republican ideology and programs (pro-CAFO, leaving farmers with low value crops,) have devastated farmers and rural towns.

The CAFO example. The CAFO system has taken value added livestock away from most farms, leaving only low value, below cost, crops like soybeans, wheat, rice, cotton, corn and other feedgrains. That then makes sustainable (resource conserving) crop rotations more difficult, as these rotations utilize livestock feeds, such as alfalfa and clover, grass, and small grain nurse crops such as oats and barley. All of that helps to stop the use of expensive pesticides, seeds and harsh fertilizers, (which are all bad for the soil).

WHAT HURTS FARMERS IS WHAT HURTS SMALL TOWNS

Cheap farm prices, the loss of value added livestock on most farms (to the Chinese, the Brazillians, etc.) and the loss of the freedom and flexibility of livestock systems and diverse crop rotations is what hurts small towns in massive ways, as has been massively documented. SEE THE RESOURCES BELOW.

FARM SUBSIDIES!

ECONOMIC CAUSE. Government subsidies DO NOT subsidize CAFOs (and junk food and export dumpers)! Do not fall for that. They’re subsidized by the failure of free markets, (by believing in Republican free market ideology). This is a chronic ECONOMIC problem that is projected to continue indefinitely into the future, and it’s surely worse since farmers lost the livestock option, (as they’re forced to make worse choices).

POLITICAL CAUSE. The failure of free markets was fixed incredibly well by the Democrats at the federal level, when they invented the farm bill core of market management (of price and supply/inventory). This made agribusiness pay farmers 69% more for corn, 48% more for cotton, 45% more for wheat, etc., on an ongoing basis (1942-52 vs pre-farm bill 1920-35). So the primary POLITICAL cause of CAFO (junk food, export dumping,) free market subsidization is the reduction (1953-1995) and elimination (1996-2018) of the core market management programs at the federal level. The 2 key proposals to fix that are the NFFC farm bill, (Food from Family Farms Act,) and the National Farmers Union (NFU) farm bill, (Market Driven Inventory System), plus a similar NFFC proposal for dairy (and a proposal for dairy supply management related to this was introduced in Congress last time around). https://zcomm.org/zblogs/primer-farm-justice-proposals-for-the-2012-farm-bill-by-brad-wilson/

CAUTION.  Perhaps the most widely misunderstood resources on the subsidy question applied to CAFOs are those of Tim Wise (et al) at Tufts University.  Wise argues correctly that “implicit subsidies” benefit CAFOs.  What’s misunderstood is that “implicit subsidies” are NOT government farm subsidies.  They’re ECONOMIC free market failures, combined with the POLITICAL reduction (1953-1995) and elimination (1996-2018) of Democratic market management policies and programs.  On this point see:  https://zcomm.org/zblogs/philpott-bittman-imhoff-lappe-are-wrong-about-tim-wise/ .

EXTRA: KEY DILEMMAS:  SUBSIDIES, DEREGULATION, AND BEYOND

Subsidies have been needed ONLY when Price Floors have been reduced and eliminated, returning to free markets, as in Republican ideology, (as has happened). But in the long run, subsidies instead of fair prices hurt farmers, as the cheap prices force farmers to subsidize the loss of their own value added livestock to CAFOs. So with free markets plus subsidies, farmers face a nasty dilemma. To remove subsidies while not restoring Democratic market management is even worse, and would rapidly devastate the farm and food system. It’s a dilemma, created by Republicans. And then farmers get the blame, not agribusiness.

Republican deregulation of crop farming and of livestock systems calls for ignoring pollution, damage to health, inhumane methods and other large concerns. This helps reduce the costs of production for farmers. Since farmers are grossly underpaid, they need Republican deregulation, (IF almost no one is advocating for the restoration of Democratic market management and the other things that farmers really need). This is a dilemma. The resolution is to find STRONG solutions to the underlying problems that ALSO help farmers. These should be solutions that change farming systems as a whole, not merely back to previous systems, but forward to alternatives that are even more resource conserving than in the past.

I’ve proposed the restoration of fair prices, combined with special market management incentives to bring livestock out of CAFOs and on to forages in sustainable grazing systems. It could be part of supply reduction, to allow much more grazing on supply reduction lands than under previous programs. This would fix problems while helping farmers.

Effective restoration of the livestock option (in a way that encourages grazing and hay production,) then brings restoration of the option for resource conserving crop rotations. This then is a way to strongly address CROP POLLUTION problems, (& loss of carbon, loss of diversity, and etc.) while ALSO helping farmers. While not requiring organic production for farmers, it opens that direction up for all farmers, and supports the infrastructure that organic and other farmers (with livestock and enhanced crop rotations) need. Research by the Leopold Center at Iowa State University found that these rotations are more profitable, but there are now much increased barriers to implementing them. We need policy tools to help overcome those barriers (see above and below).

Additional regulations should be paired with the level of minimum price programs. How much public good should farmers provide? Ok, then manage markets to raise prices to pay for that. The more public good, the higher (closer to parity) that farm prices should be. This should be the first priority, as it doesn’t rely on government spending. Green subsidies for things like organic farming, while maintaining cheap prices that massively subsidize CAFOs to take livestock away from farmers is a strategy that radically fails to resolve this dilemma. So follow my approach first, so farmers first need no subsidies, (and use market management methods to bring back livestock in sustainable crop rotations,) and then if necessary, consider some green subsidies.

Ok, so farmers need subsidies in the short run (immediately!), but the free markets that necessitate subsidies help giant CAFOs MORE than they help farmers stay diversified and flexible. It’s a nasty dilemma where farmers lose out in the long run. And farmers need deregulation because they’re so grossly underpaid, but deregulation helps CAFOs more than it helps diversified farmers with livestock and sustainable crop rotations, so that too is a nasty dilemma where farmers lose out in the long run.

And then we’re divided from farmers and conquered and we lose the rural vote and we all lose.

There are a long list of farmer dilemmas that basically fit this pattern. Another is the tax system. Since farmers are grossly underpaid, (to secretly subsidize agribusiness,) they need a lot of big tax breaks, but those tax breaks are 4 X bigger per acre for the rich in the top bracket (with lots of off -arm income,) than for those in a 10% bracket, (i.e. identical farms). So the tax breaks help all farmers, but they give a huge competitive advantage to the rich, the richer you are. Again, it’s a savage dilemma against the vast majority of farmers.

So don’t advocate ONLY against subsidies, deregulation, tax breaks, etc., to be divided and conquered, as in the loss of the rural vote last time. Reconcile the dilemmas to take a significant portion of votes away from the Trump Republicans.

Republicans grab all of these dilemmas by only one horn, and all too often, successively sell that to farmers. So in the end, the one-horned proposals of Republica always hurt farmers, but they always make it look like it’s pro-farmer, (for lack of adequate opposition). The state strategies I’ve proposed here are designed to counteract that.

VISUAL AIDS!

I like to bring along some visual aids to plop down on the table or podium or hold up and plop on the Q and A microphone. I recommend several key pieces.

[1] John Ikerd’s piece, “CAFOs vs Rural Communities,” can be printed (front back) on a single sheet to be handed out, (I prefer the pdf version http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ra08/ikerd_low_res.pdf , but I sometimes use the html version for online postings http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ra08/ikerd_cafo08.html ).

Ikerd’s piece is a sort of table of contents. It refers to 56 studies to buttress these arguments about how Republican farm policy lowers the rate of wealth and jobs creation in rural regions. Ikerd doesn’t link these materials, so I’ve listed them below. He’s an agricultural economist (emeritus)

[2] Here is the document “56 studies,” Curtis W. Stofferahn, “Industrialized Farming and Its Relationship to Community Well-Being: An Update of a 2000 Report by Linda Lobao,” http://www.und.edu/org/ndrural/Lobao%20&%20Stofferahn.pdf . 56 pages, great for plopping! So print it out. There are also other, earlier and later books and reports, articles, etc., but citing Ikerd and then plopping the report, which lists the 56 studies, is a good strategy.

[3] Ikerd also mentions, (but does not cite,) more than 40 health studies behind calls for a CAFO moratorium, so while you’re at it plop that one down also: “Precautionary Moratorium on New Concentrated Animal Feed Operations,” American Public Health Association, Policy no. 20037, 11/18/03 (about 5 pp., 46 footnotes,) https://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2014/07/24/11/17/precautionary-moratorium-on-new-concentrated-animal-feed-operations ). Again, print it out as a visual aid.

[4] On the top 4 and 25 corporations, including the Chinese (and Brazillians?) owning most (hogs, poultry,) or an increasing share of U.S. livestock, see “Pork Powerhouses 2016: Glut of Pigs,” Successful Farming, 9/29/16, http://www.agriculture.com/livestock/pork-powerhouses/pork-powerhouses-2016-glut-of-pigs, list of top 25 at http://www.agriculture.com/pdf/pork-powerhouses-2016 .

[5] I also like to start by plopping down a copy of “The Economic Cost of Food Monopolies,” from Food and Water Watch, (2012,) http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/insight/economic-cost-food-monopolies . It has a lot of information on concentration, and focuses on economics. 55 pages.

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