The Harkin Compromise

Introdution:  Restoring a Farm Justice Farm Bill

Tom Harkin has been the greatest Senator of the past 20 years because of his leadership in introducing proposals to restore true Democratic Party farm programs through his farm bill proposals.

In 1985 Harkin introduced the Farm Policy Reform Act, (sometimes called the Harkin-Alexander Farm Bill, as it was co-sponsored by Representative Bill Alexander, [D-AR]).  See more information here:  (“The Farm Policy Reform Act of 1985,” https://familyfarmjustice.me/2016/12/10/the-farm-policy-reform-act-of-1985/ ).

In 1987 he introduced another version of the bill, The Family Farm Act, sometimes called the Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill, (with Representative Richard Gephardt as a co-sponsor).  See more information here:  (“Family Farm Act of 1987, https://familyfarmjustice.me/2016/12/09/family-farm-act-of-1987/ ).

Harkin continued to support this approach until he became Senate Agriculture Chairman in 2001.

The text below is an excerpt from a longer piece, “Subsidies vs Price Floors in Farm Bill History, Revised,” which is found here:  (https://familyfarmjustice.me/2016/05/25/subsidies-vs-price-floors-in-farm-bill-history-revised/ ).

The Harkin Compromise

In 2002 when Tom Harkin became chairman of the Senate Ag Committee he switched sides. He stopped advocating for price floors and supported a greened up version of the 1996 Farm bill, (the worst Republican Farm Bill since Herbert Hoover). That goes for 2002, 2008, [and 2014]. In 1985, 1990 and 1996, however, Harkin and the other Democrats in Congress and running for President (ie. Gephardt, Daschle, Wellstone, Simon, Hart, McGovern, Dukakis,) totally rejected this kind of a farm bill. With Harking in the chairman roll, however, all of the progressive Democrats in Congress followed Harkin in what I call “The Harkin Compromise,” his “green” version of Freedom to Fail.

During the 1980s mainline churches also supported this kind of farm bill.   Today they support some version of a greened up Freedom to Fail, as do most other progressive groups including the Food Movement, Environmental Movement and Sustainable Agriculture Movement.  This occurs, surely, either because they believe free markets work, (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition?) or because they don’t really know “what” a farm bill is, (other 21st century progressives).  Efforts are underway to get them all on board for farm justice, to stop then from supporting mere subsidy reforms, (erasing the yellow line on the aqua chart above), for the benefit of animal factories, junk food makers, and export dumpers.

Sustainable and Organic farmers are a special case. During the 1990s in trying to stop Freedom to Farm, the Family Farm [Justice] Movement worked hard to bring in sustainable and organic farm coalitions, (SAWGs, NCSA, SAC,) but failed, and [these other groups] have consistently supported some version of Green Freedom to Fail, [mere subsidy reforms, such as green subsidies or caps], combined with no price floors or supply management [to make CAFOs, junk food makers and export dumpers pay fair prices to farmers]. Their policies provide or would continue multibillion dollar below cost gains for CAFOs and even bigger gains for Cargill and ADM. Sustainable/organic folks have won greener subsidies like organic EQIP and CSP, but at the cost of massive subsidization for unsustainable animal factories to compete against them and drive down their premium prices.

Likewise, when Michael Pollan, in Food Inc. and Fresh, speaks of cheap junk foods, he’s referring to “green” versions of Freedom to Fail policies, [for the cheapest of corn, milk, cotton, rice, soybeans, etc.]. So when Pollan speaks of “subsidized corn” it’s misleading. The low/no price floors caused the low prices and the cheaper high fructose corn syrup and corn/soy transfats, as can be seen historically. The subsidies prevent the destruction of farmers. The bigger the farm, the bigger the losses to be compensated by bigger subsidies. Again, this is rarely mentioned when bashing farm subsidies. (Of course there are some economies of scale with larger farms, which changes their need somewhat, even as they have the biggest reductions in value.)  So ending, greening, and/or capping subsidies are not policies that address the biggest CAFO benefits, processor benefits, ethanol benefits, or exporter benefits against LDC farmers.

By the way, “family farm” advocates and their friends (ie. La Via Campesina with 200 million members) lost over and over on the price floor issue (without much food/consumer/environmentalist/organic help, and still today without help). So some farmers invested in ethanol to try to raise prices (and end processor below cost gains, dumping on LDC farmers). The idea is that when farmers lose money on corn, they’ll make some money it on ethanol, and if they make money on corn, they’ll lose money on ethanol.  It’s a kind of risk management.  No where have I seen this understood in the progressive community outside of NFFC related groups.

(Least Developed Countries are 70% rural. The US has long had huge export market shares of some commodities, bigger than the middle East in Oil, but our leaders tried to get low world prices, not high world prices with it’s clout, (clout of well above 50% export market share for corn and soybeans, for example, or up to +80%, but less each decade).