You Can’t Fix Sustainability Without Justice

Author’s Note: This paper presents background material in support of my slide show series on “The Decline of Agriculture” in 42 counties in Iowa, (with summaries of these counties for each Congressional District, and with a survey of all of Iowa). County level data from the Census of Agriculture is used to show how cheaper and cheaper farm prices, leading to reductions in the farm economy have forced farmers to subsidize animal factories, (Confined Animal Feeding Operations, CAFOs,) with cheap, below cost feed ingredients. This farmer-paid subsidization has then led to the further penalty where most farmers have lost all value-added livestock and poultry. Without livestock, most farmers have then lost the sustainable “livestock crops,” grass pastures, alfalfa and clover hay, and the nurse crops for these, like oats. These “Environmental Impacts” are the focus of Part 1 of my surveys. 25 additional state summary surveys are also being developed. These are the core, systemic policy issues for agriculture and the environment. 

In the map above, the darker counties are the ones surveyed.  Links to the slide shows are found farther below. A preliminary survey for Wisconsin is found here. Part 2 slide shows focus on “Farmer Impacts” (see below).

Understanding the Core Environmental Policies for Agriculture

From the crisis of the Great Depression, the Farm Bill was invented and implemented, fairly slowly, during the 1930s to 1941. At it’s core, it was a market management solution to at least six decades of prior crisis caused by cheap farm prices. Minimum farm price floors, (similar in principle to minimum wage,) were implemented and backed up by supply reductions, as needed, to balance supply and demand. For consumers and industry, price ceilings were used, to trigger the release of reserve supplies during times of drought and shortage.

The second national crisis of World War II led Congress to raise minimum farm price floors to “living wage” levels, 85% or 90% of parity with a goal of prices at 100% of parity. This was seen as a government managed, private sector economic stimulus, (not a government spending stimulus,) and was passed, in part, through the banking committees.

The farm program worked well, raising farm prices to “living wage” levels, and at minimal or no cost, even making money for the government through 1948. Agriculture as a whole achieved 100% of parity every year, 1942-52. 

The agribusiness buying corporations were forced to pay farmers $1.2 trillion more, (1942-52 vs. averages from 1920-32). 

For 1933-1960, an estimated 99% of the impact was from minimum farm price floors, and only 1% from farm subsidies.

Congress then lowered minimum farm price floors, more and more, 1953-1995, and then ended them, (1996-2023). This had devastating impacts on farmers, rural communities and the rural environment. Over time it forced farmers to massively subsidize the loss of their value added livestock to CAFOs, with cheap feed ingredients, (below full cost levels most of the time at least since 1981). With cheaper and cheaper prices, net farm income fell low and stayed low, even with higher yields and with implementation of the major farm subsidy programs. These started in 1961 for corn, wheat and sorghum, 1962 for barley, 1964 for cotton, 1976 for rice, 1982 for oats, and 1998 for soybeans. The evidence is very clear that farmers were penalized toward these changes, not rewarded toward them.

Iowa, though it has had some of the very biggest subsidies, also seems to be the state with the biggest reductions, resulting in the biggest net reductions over the long haul (net = market reductions below parity standards + subsidies). Iowa is the biggest farm bill loser, as is the cornbelt region.

Nationally the reductions since 1953 add up to trillions of dollars, so these are huge issues affecting agriculture, and affecting agriculture’s impact on climate.

US net farm income in 2016, (adjusted for inflation and including farm subsidies,) was less than 50% of what it had been during the parity years of 1942-52. Net Farm Income for Iowa in 2016 was less than 35% of what it had been for 1949-1952, (the earliest years for which data is available). 

That’s in spite of much increased yields for crops like corn and soybeans.

Nearly 60% of farmers were run out of business during the massive reductions in farm income. Losses of farms livestock and poultry poultry occurred at an even faster rate, especially for hogs, dairy and poultry. According to data from the Census of Agriculture, between 1950 and 2017, Iowa lost 97% of its farms with hogs land pigs, 98% of it’s farms selling poultry products, and 99% of its farms with milk cows. It also lost 86% of its farms with cattle and calves and 88% of its farms with sheep.

Losing livestock from farms was very damaging to the environment, leading to our poor water quality, contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and to climate change. That’s because, without farms with livestock, we also lost farms with the sustainable “livestock crops” like grass pastures, alfalfa and clover hay, and nurse crops like oats and barley. Farms with these sustainable crops were also lost at a much faster rate than the loss of farmers and the loss of crop farmers. For example, according to Census of Agriculture Data, between 1950 and 2017, Iowa lost 82% of it’s farms with hay, 96% of its farms with pasture on cropland, and 99% of its farms with oats.

As a result of these losses, farmers have lost much of the economic viability for these sustainable crops and diverse crop rotations, which are especially needed on hills and near streams. These areas have been increasingly planted to corn and soybeans. We’ve then seen increasing destruction of the infrastructure for sustainability on farms, in small towns, and across rural regions. 

A related factor is that, while 92% of Iowa farm operators reported farming as their primary occupation in 1950, by 1997 only 61% of the remaining farmers did, and for some counties, less than half. And while only 7% of Iowa farm operators worked 200 or more days off the farm in 1950, by 2017 31% of the surviving farm operators did. These changes were reflected in farming’s share of total farm household income. While in the early 1960s, when USDA’s data series on this begins the farm portion of total farm household income was nearly 50%, this figure fell to just 12% by the 1990s and 11% for 2000-2009, even with the start of the biofuels boom. Those temporarily higher prices continued for corn, soybeans and rice through 2013, and the farm share of farm household income rose for 2010-2019, but only to 20%.

I’ve documented many these changes away from sustainability for Iowa, for 42 counties in Iowa, and with summaries of this data for each of the 4 Congressional districts in Iowa, (9+9+12+12=42 county summaries + 4 District summaries). 

(See data charts here, organized by the new Congressional Districts: The Decline of Farming in 9 Counties of Iowa’s 1st Congressional District: Environmental Impacts [10 slide shows]:; The Decline of Farming in 9 Counties of Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District: Environmental Impacts [10 slide shows]:; The Decline of Farming in 12 Counties of Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District: Environmental Impacts [13 slide shows]:; The Decline of Farming in 12 Counties of Iowa’s 4th Congressional District: Environmental Impacts [13 slide shows]: For all of Iowa [99 counties,] see See Iowa charts below.)

Examination of the acreages for these crops shows more clearly how they affect crop rotations. Without the diversity of the sustainable livestock crops, most of Iowa has been reduced to a simple corn-soybeans rotation, (corn-following-soybeans,) leading to damage to the environment, especially on hills and near streams. The slide shows compare the changes in these acreages, shown in pie charts, to various crop rotations, (including acreages for soybeans and “other,”) jumping from 1950 to 1969 to 1992 to 2017.

Compare the two-year, corn-soybeans rotation, above, with the five-year rotation shown below, which has been popular among organic farmers in Iowa. 

Compare that with the acreage results for the state of Iowa in 1950 and 2017, below.

Iowa’s diverse pie pieces have shrunk! Iowa has lost the possibility for sustainable crop rotations.

The increasing role of off-farm jobs and income for those farm operators who have survived, and as the percentage of young farmers declined and the percentage of old farmers rose has also affected the environmental impacts of Iowa agriculture. These statistics mean that farmers had less availability of labor on farms and relatively more capital from off-farm sources. The quite old farmers of today want to do less labor and they have more capital than young farmers do. These changes during the period of declining farm prices and income has fostered systems of “tax loss farming,” favoring those with higher off-farm incomes and those in higher tax brackets. They got bigger tax write-off subsidies per acre, (assuming identical farms,) than farmers with lower total incomes. This also magnified the loss of diversity and sustainability on farms, and increased the use of purchased inputs, like fertilizers, pesticides, and larger machinery.

Slide shows on these farmer impacts for each the 42 counties (and 4 Congressional districts) are not complete yet, but the one for all of Iowa is available here:

In general, with much lower net incomes per acre, and with the loss of several kinds of value-added livestock/poultry from a large majority of farms, farms have had to get much bigger in acres to stay the same economic size, which is another systemic factor working against diversity and sustainability.

To address a wide range of issues, including those of rural economic and community health, rural environmental decline, and agriculture’s impacts on climate, changes are needed in the federal farm bill to restore programs of market management for economic justice. Iowa farmers need the kinds of Democratic Party Price Floor and Supply Management programs that we had in the past. Proposals to do this have been available for decades, and there have been many econometric studies showing this approach is much better than each of the increasingly Republican farm bills we’ve seen from 1980 to 2014. These proposals have come from the organizations of the Family Farm (Farm Justice) Movement, including support from the National Farmers Organization, the American Agriculture Movement, the North American Farm Alliance, the National Family Farm Coalition, the National Farmers Union, and the Texas Farmers Union. Many of them address the dairy portion of the farm bill, which has been hurt so much by the cheap prices that have forced farmers to subsidize CAFOs. These proposals were much cheaper than each of the Farm Bills, (farm bill baselines,) that they were compared with. They each would have significantly reduced the huge CAFO and junk food subsidies of these farm bills, and would also have reduced the export dumping of these decades, where the United States has been losing money on farm exports, subsidizing foreign countries while damaging the economy, the environment, public health, and rural community life here.

One of the most comprehensive of these studies was the FAPRI, (Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute,) study of the 1987 Family Farm Act, (Harkin-Gephardt proposal). ( FAPRI found that the Harkin-Gephardt proposal would have greatly increased Net Farm Income and income from farm exports, as in the charts below. (The charts below are adjusted for inflation in 2019 dollars, and therefore different than those at the link above.)

At the same time, Harkin-Gephardt would have greatly reduced the costs of these core farm programs to government and taxpayers.

For the 8 major crops studied, the programs would have reduced acreages below the inadequate levels of the 1985 Republican Farm Bill.

This would have resulted in reduced production of the 8 crops, to prevent oversupply and cheap prices, as seen in the chart below of 6 of the crops where production can be measured in bushels.

The value of the 8 crops would then be much higher, however, under Harkin-Gephardt than under the 1985 Farm Bill. 

A similar pattern would have been seen for exports. The quantity exported under Harkin-Gephardt would have been significantly smaller, as seen in the chart below featuring 6 crops measured in bushels. Similar patterns were found for cotton and rice.

On the other hand, income from exports was found to be much higher with Harkin-Gephardt.

If USDA-ERS “full cost”* figures are applied to the FAPRI data, we also see that the Harkin-Gephardt proposal would result in exports above zero, while the 1985 Farm Bill that President Reagan signed would have farmers losing money on their investments. (*Here USDA “full costs” include a wage equivalent for the farmer, plus a portion of general farm overhead and other factors. So the resulting figures are a return to a farmers’ investments in land, machinery and facilities.)

Because the Harkin-Gephardt farm bill proposal would significantly raise the costs of grain for feeding livestock, ending CAFO subsidies, it was found to affect farming systems in ways that would help the environment. For example, there would be more forage, (grass, alfalfa, clover,) and less feeding of grain in CAFOs and feedlots. According to the study, (

“a major shift in the type of meat produced would occur concurrently with the shift toward less production.”

“As feed costs increase toward an 80% parity level, producers shift away from grain-fed animals and utilize available forage to add weight to beef.”

“… the higher costs of beef production associated with parity crop pricing would likely push the industry toward an animal which matures (finishes) at a lighter weight and could be forage-fed for a substantial part of the weight-gaining process.”

“Such an adjustment would be costly to current feedlot operators.”

Our macro, systemic conclusion is clear. We can’t fix sustainability for agriculture without restoring economic distributive farm justice. 


Church Statements on the Rural Crisis

PrairieFire Rural Action – NCCC 

(Iowa Family Farm organization) – (National Council of Churches of Christ) 


In recent years, ecumenical bodies at the state and national level have taken an increasingly active and public role on rural crisis issues and state and federal farm policy. 

The first document in this Section is “A Resolution by Religious and Ecumenical leaders of the United States,” passed by an ecumenical and interfaith gathering of religious leaders in Kansas City, Missouri, in November, 1986. The Resolution stands in clear support of the principles of the Family Farm Act. 

Also included here is a “Declaration on Rural Crisis” adopted by the National Interreligious Conference on Rural Life, held in Chicago in February, 1987. This Conference of Christians and Jews marked a major step in the development of strong interfaith policy positions on rural issues and public policy development. 

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC) is comprised of thirty-one communions — Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican church bodies with a combined membership of 40 million Christians. It is the primary national expression of the ecumenical movement in the United States. 

This special section includes the NCC’s basic Policy Statement adopted in 1958, “Ethical Goals for Agricultural Policy,” and six related Resolutions passed by the Governing Board since 1983: 

1. On the Status of the Family Farm May 12, 1983 

2. On the Status of Black-Owned Farm Land in the U.S. November 11, 1983 

3. A Call for Justice and Action May 17, 1984 

4. On the Exploitation of the Rural Crisis by Extremist Organizations November 8, 1985 

5. Save The Family Farm Act of 1986 November 6, 1986 

6. Resolution on the “Christian Identity” Movement November 6, 1986 

Of special note is the Resolution passed unanimously by the Governing Board on November 62 19861 in support of the Save The Family Farm Act of 1986. 

National Council of the Churches of Christ, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10115 


(Adopted by the Governing Board, May 12, 1983) 

In order to restore some integrity to farm tax and credit policies which have increasingly favored high-income: expanding firms at the expense of small and modest sized family farms in the U.S., the Governing Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. calls upon the Congress and the Administration to develop and implement policies which: 

(1) restore the limited resource loan program of loans to low-equitv and low-income farmers and establish it as the principal loan program of the Farmers Home Administration; 

(2) restructure eligibility guidelines for all other Farmers Home Administration farm loan programs so that larger-than-family farms are not eligible for this kind of assistance: 

(3) provide proper servicing to borrowers who for no fault of their own are unable to meet scheduled loan payments but who show evidence of ability to pay when agricultural prices stabilize at levels which afford them the opportunity to do so; specifically, loan deferrals should be granted on a case-by-case basis under provisions which guarantee full and fair consideration of each applicant for a deferral and which safeguard the procedural rights of the borrower, including the right or administrative appeal; and 

(4) eliminate the use of the investment tax credit for specialized farm buildings for the production of livestock and for the purchase of irrigation equipment which is used to irrigate land which is not considered to be irrigable within soil conservation standards.

The Governing Board further cells upon its member denominations, local congregations, end affiliate organizations to advocate for and support such measures.



One of the most complex problems facing the United States government today is the financial crisis in agriculture. Partly the product of farmers’ success in improving productivity and partly the product of farm policies which have failed to stabilize farm income. this crisis threatens to erode the family farm base of American agriculture more than any development in our lifetimes. 

Neither recent Congresses nor recent administrations have responded responsibly to this growing crisis. To the contrary, there has been a tendency on the part of public officials to avoid the issue by opening public credit programs to an ever-wider group of larger farms and offering tax concessions which encourage further expansion on the part of these farms. The result is more concentration in production, diminished economic opportunity for farms of modest means. and greater financial vulnerability for our food system as a whole. These trends undermine an owner-operated system of agriculture, which a substantial body of scientific literature has established as the most efficient unit of production.

Particularly grievous has been: (1) the steady deterioration in the services afforded small farmers with limited resources by the Farmers Home Administration and the corresponding shift in that agency’s emphasis to larger-than-family farms: and (2) the expansion of the investment tax credit, a superfluous subsidy to capital which invites unneeded investments by tax-motivated investors in areas of agriculture already sufficiently capitalized. These policies have tended to reward the rich at the expense of the poor, and to diminish economic justice. 

The general direction of these and other policies is therefore viewed as contrary to the Ethical Goals for Agricultural Policy adopted by the General Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. on June 4. 1958, which called for the development of “… programs which will enlarge the opportunities for low-income farm families to earn adequate incomes and achieve satis- factory levels of living…” 

Background Considerations 

Credit: Since the 1940’s, the Farmers Home Administration has provided credit as a last resort to farmers who could not get it elsewhere. Its purpose has been to help tenant farmers become owners and to help marginal farmers reach the point where they could operate through normal commercial credit. 

In recent years, the government has reduced services to such farmers while expanding Farmers Home Administration credit to larger, more aggressive farmers. In 1978, Congress eliminated the interest subsidy from 80% of Farmers Home Administration’s “regular” loans. reserving the lower interest loans “limited resource” (LR) borrowers, vaguely defined as those who could not afford the regular interest rate. At the same time, Congress established an Economic Emergency (EB) loan program for larger-than-family-sized farmers including those who do not depend on farm income for a living. By 1979, the EEprogram was larger than the regular loan program, and limited-resource borrowers, the group for whom Farmers Home Administration was established, were getting less than 10% of the agency’s farm loans. 

The present Administration has opposed re-authorization of the limited resource program and has opposed any appropriation for it. Last year, it spent only half the limited resource allocation, despite authorizing legislation requiring it to make the loans. Meantime, Congress, is considering legislation to strengthen the EE program by making it mandatory. 

At the same time, the Administration has generally resisted efforts to take Farmers Home Administration procedures more open and fair for the borrower. This has been particularly true in the case of requests for deferrals, or one-year extensions of overdue loans in cases where the delinquency is for reasons beyond the borrower’s control. A U.S. District Court case (Curry 7. Block) requires the Administration to develop criteria for such deferrals, but Farmers Home Administration has appealed the case to the Circuit Court. Congress is considering legislation requiring implementation of the deferral policy. About 25% of Home Administration borrowers are delinquent, and that proportion is expected to increase. 

Tax Policy: The general effect of U.S. income tax policy on the structure of American agriculture has been to encourage non-farm investment, concentration of production, and the separation of ownership from operation. Recent major studies by the United States Department of Agriculture and land-grant universitiesconfirm this.

The effect has been particularly strong in livestock production which h= become more capital-intensive and therefore more susceptible to tax-motivated investment. The University of Missouri reports that about 13% of the slaughter hogs in the U.S; now come from large operations, and in Nebraska, the Center for Rural Affairs has documented that 24% of the feeder-pig crop (an especially important crop for beginning farmers) now comes from corporate hog factories.A high-income investor in such a facility can receive as much as 50% of his her initial investment back in the first year of operation through reduced federal taxes, and over the life of the facility can receive as much as 80%. This subsidy is attracting investment capital into an area of agricultural production which is already sufficiently capitalized. United States Department of Agriculture reports that the U.S. hog industry presently has about double the productionfacilities necessary to meet production requirements. 

Irrigation development is another example. New technologies (sophisticated sprinkler systems) have made it possible to irrigate marginal range land which is highly susceptible to erosion. A high-income developer and investor can recover about one-third of the purchase price of such land through federal and state tax breaks on the irrigation development, according to the Center for Rural Affairs. Ironically, the tax breaks work to encourage the selection first of those parcels which are most vulnerable to erosion (the higher the ratio of development costs to original purchase price of the land, the larger the tax breaks; the lover the purchase price, the more marginal the land). Most of the production from these developments is corn, a commodity already in surplus. 

Theological Rationale 

A Christian ethical approach to agriculture begins with the acknowledgment that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof…” God the Creator has given human beings a special position in the world, with specific responsibility for the fruits of tie earth and all living things. Thus the production of food and fiber — the primary task of farmers — becomes a service to God and humankind. 

The Christian faith also attaches special significance to the family, where Christian love and forgiveness can be personally experienced. The family farm has provided, throughout our history, that type of rural environment most co to the growth of human personality, the stability and enrichment of family life, and the strength of the community and its institutions. This pattern of agriculture he also contributed notably to national strength and the preservation of democratic attitudes and practices. 

Therefore, the preservation and extension of the efficient family-type farm as the predominant pattern of American agriculture has been affirmed as a conscious goal of national policy by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Furthermore, the Christian concept of justice demands that family farmers who produce efficiently and abundantly, where such production is in the national interest, should not suffer from this fact, but should receive economic rewards comparable with those received by persons operating larger-than-family-type farms or by persons of similar competence in other vocations. 

Because of their ineffective bargaining position, farmers have rarely enjoyed true parity of income in the open market except during wartime periods of extreme demand. Yet sustained farm income is essential both as a requirement of justice for farmers – and of stability for the total economy. Therefore, programs designed in accordance with sound economic principles and equitably administered to protect the rights and interests of small as well as large farmers are a legitimate and necessary function of the federal government. 


1. A commonly accepted definition of the “family farm” is a farm operation in which the responsibility of ownership, management, financial risk and labor (except at peak seasons) is that of the family. 

2. The economic literature on economies of scale and farm size are voluminous and conclusive. A farm which fully employs one or two persons achieves lowest costs and optimum efficiencies. The classics in this literature are: J. Patrick Madden, Economies of Size in Farming, AER Report #107, USDA, 1967, Warren R. Bailey, The One-Man Farm, ERS-519, USDA, 1973; and Thomas A. Miller, et al, Economies of Size in U.S. Field Crop Farming, AER Report #472, USDA, 1981. The entire issue was reexamined by USDA as part of the “structure of agriculture” project conducted by the agency in 1980. It confirmed previous findings that “most of the technical economies…are attained at relatively small sizes” and concluded that “we have passed the point where any net gain to society can be claimed from policies that encourage large farms to become larger”. (A Time to Choose, USDA, January 1981.) 

3. Two of the Studies: A Time to Choose, January 1981, USDA Ch. 6, “Tax Policy” pg. 90-99. The Effects of Tax Policy on American Agriculture, Charles Davenport, Michael D. Boehlje, David B.H. Martin, USDA/ERS, Agricultural Economic Report #480. February 1982. 

4. “Ethical Goals for Agricultural Policy”, Statement adopted by the General Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., June 4, 1958. 


Adopted by the Governing Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ, November 11, 1983 

According to the Census in 1978, the rate of Black farmland loss was two and a half times greater than the loss rate for white farmers. Black farmers as a group, compared to other farmers, depend more heavily on farming for an income and have less off-farm income. The continuing loss of ownership and control of agricultural land by Black American farmers has reduced their ability to achieve economic viability and financial independence. This loss has been accelerated by the Black land owner’s lack of access to capital, technical information and legal resources needed to retain and develop agricultural land holdings into stable, income-producing self-sustaining operations. 

Resolved: that the Governing Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. calls upon the Congress, the Administration and in particular the United States Department of Agriculture to develop and implement a Federal program designed; 

1) to prevent the loss of ownership of agricultural land by Black Americans; 

2) to assist Black Americans to acquire such land or to expand present holdings; and 

3) to achieve a significant increase in the participation of Black American owners of agricultural land in applicable Federally sponsored programs. 

This program should: 

1) identify, reduce and eliminate barriers which have resulted in reduced participation by Black farmers in, and reduced benefits from, Federally sponsored programs. 

2) provide technical assistance to Black Americans who seek to develop or upgrade land for agricultural purposes, 

3) identify Black Americans who may wish to acquire land for agricultural purposes and to target applicable existing Federal programs to assist in such acquisition, and 

4) encourage the development of private-sector initiatives directed toward the achievement of these objectives. 

The Governing Board,concerned about the increasing disappearance of American small farms, especially those owned and operated by American Blacks, urgently calls upon its-member denominations, local congregations and affiliate organizations to advocate and support these measures. 

Policy Base: Ethical Goals for Agricultural Policy June 4, 1958 


Psalm 24: The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, a the world and those who dwell therein.

Isaiah 58:6 Is not this what I require of you…to loose the fetters of injustice…. 

A Christian ethical approach to agriculture begins with the acknowledgment that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…” God the Creator has given human beings a special position in the world, with specific responsibility for the fruits of the earth and all living things. Thus the production of food and fiber — the primary task of farmers — becomes a service to God and humankind. 

Land development promotes community stabilization, creates opportunities for profitable investments and benefits local and national economies by strengthening the economic independence of farmers and creating profitable markets for goods and services. 

During a ten-year period ending in 1978, Blacks lost 57 percent of their active farmland base — down from 133,000 operating farms comprised of 6.2 million acres in 1969 to 57,000 farms and 4.2 million acres in 1978. The two million acre loss over 10 years is conservatively valued at 1 billion dollars. 

Farmland is included in the Census of Agriculture count every five years if it produces an income for its owner of at least $1,000 a year. The Census has an information base on only those Blacks who derive at least $1,000 in farm sales a year. They numbered 57,000 controlling 4.2 million acres in 1978. 

The Emergency Land Fund, Atlanta,- Georgia, und r contract to the Farmer‘s Home Administration. U.S. Department of Agriculture, made a study of “The Impact of Heir Property on Black Rural Land Tenure in the Southeastern Region of the United States” in 1980 and developed the following data: 

“In 1974, Blacks owned or had access to 9.5 million acres with as many as 1.6 million individual Black owners who were scattered throughout the United States with a land title in the rural Southeast. Therefore, over two-thirds of the Black farmland base, some 5 million acres, receive no policy attention, and most certainly none of the program resources available through public supported agricultural institutions. This category of “unaccounted for” Black rural land 

is often idle, subject to absentee ownership, occupied by elderly individuals who are often on public assistance, who in many cases cannot read or write well, if at all, encumbered with clouded titles, lost in tax, partition and foreclosure sales and an easy prey for land speculators. According to the Census in 1978, the rate of Black farmland loss was two and a half times greater than the loss rate for white farmers. 

“Black farmers as a group, compared to other farmers, depend more heavily on farming for an income and have less off-farm income. Additionally, the net farm and farm-related income earned per dollar value of land and building represents a 15% return on investment by the Black farmer compared to the 9% average for all farms. Blacks, therefore, are good farmers but continue to lose land because of a lack of farm financing and operating capital, and suffer also because of the lack of land utilization information. technical and management assistance and markets. There is also a host of legal. financial and discrimination problems that are contributing factors. Often these problems involve both public and private lending institutions, courts, legal representation and land speculators – both private and corporate.” 

Secretary Block of the U. S. Department of Agriculture appointed a special Task Force on the “Decline of Blacks in Agriculture” in April 1983. The information in this resolution will support the Emergency Land Fund’s recommendations to that Task Force. 

Based on NCCC Policy Statement:  Ethical Goals for Agricultural Policy, June 4, 1958. 


l. The Emergency Land Fund was founded-in 1971 by Robert S. Browne, who is also the founder of the Black Economic Research Center and the Twenty-First Century Foundation. For the past eleven years, ELF has maintained a regional focus, working throughout the rural Southeast providing a variety of services and conducting special projects and programs aimed at the retention, acquisition and better utilization of farmland for the benefit of Blacks. ELF’s services include legal, financial, technical and management assistance. Additionally, ELF has maintained an extensive outreach and community education program. Emergency Land Fund, Joseph Brooks, President, 564 Lee Street, S.W., Atlanta, Georgia 30310 (404) 758-5506 


of the 


Resolution on the Exploitation of the Rural Crisis by Extremist Organizations 

(Adopted by the Governing Board November 8, 1985) 

The Governing Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.: 

Endorses as its own statement the resolution adopted on April 13, 1985, by the Iowa Inter-Church Agency for Peace and Justice, an agency of the Iowa Inter-Church Forum, and member of the Iowa Farm Unity Coalition: 

“We deplore and reject the extremist philosophies and actions of those individuals and organizations that promote violence, anti-semitic, or racist responses to the Farm Crisis, and reaffirm and recommit our efforts and energies to building a constructive, progressive, non-violent farm movement that is committed to justice for all people of this nation and the world.” 

(2) Urges the member communions to communicate this Resolution to their congregations along with materials which will inform them about this racist and anti-semitic campaign, and how to combat it. 

Policy Bases: “Religious and Civil Liberties in the United States of America,” adopted by the General Board October 5, 1955.  “Ethical Goals for Agricultural Policy,” adopted by the General Board June 4, 1958. 


475 Riverside Drive New York, NY 10115 

Resolution on the Save-the-Family-Farm Act of 1986 

(adopted by the Governing Board, November 6, 1986) 

The Governing Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. endorses 

(1) The objectives of the Save-the-Family-Farm Act of 1986, which incorporates a strong supply-management program; price supports that cover at least the cost of production; a producer referendum that will enable farmers and ranchers to determine their own future; and a minimization of the financial burden of federal farm programs on the taxpayer. 

The Governing Board of the National Council of Churches instructs 

(1) The General Secretary to ask Congress and the appropriate Committees of Congress to docket this proposed legislation for immediate consideration upon the convening of Congress in January 1987. 

(2) The General Secretary is also instructed to inform the President of the United States and the Secretary of Agri- culture of this action by the National Council of Churches and our expectation for support from the administration. 

Policy Base: Ethical Goals for Agricultural Policy, June 4, 1958. 

For presentation to Document_________

NCC Governing Board

November 5-7, 1986 

Resolution on the Save-the-Family—Farm Act of 1986

Since 1984 the Rural Crisis Issue Team, an ecumenical group of staff persons, responding to a directive from toe Governing Board of the National Council of Churches, has been advocating change in the legislation governing the farm economy. The directive from the Message, “Rural Crisis: A Call for Justice and Action”, states the following: 

“to press for enlightened public policy that will preserve the diverse ownership of land and the continuation of the family farm system with its attendant values of stewardship, family, and community responsibility through education and organized action within the congregations of our member Communions.” 

The Governing Board has put the National Council on record in Resolutions to support the status of the family farm as it relates to farm tax and credit policies, loss of Black-owned farm land, to warn against extremist organizing in the rural communities, and to respond to the economic development needs from the drought crisis on the farms in the southeastern states. 

The Federal Office of Technology Assessment, Spring 1986, stated that “if present trends continue to the end of this century, the total number of farms will continue to decline from 2.2 million in 1982 to 1.2 million in 2000“.

Legislation to reopen the debate on the problems facing family farmers was introduced into the Senate and the House of Representatives on September 23, 1986. The Save-the-Family-Farm Act of 1986 challenges the Food Security Act of 1985, the most recent legislation on farm policy. The new legislation is supported by a broad-based coalition of farmers, consumers, laborers, church leaders, small businesses, bankers and community leaders. The Save-the-Family-Farm Act seeks to control overproduction of farm products while restoring supply/demand balance to the marketplace. It is designed to save dollars for the taxpayer and save America’s family farms and rural communities. 

The Governing Board of the National Council of Churches endorses the objectives of the Save-the-Family Farm Act of 1986, which incorporates a strong supply-management program; price supports that cover at least the cost of production; a producer referendum that will enable farmers and ranchers to determine their own future; and a minimization of the financial burden of federal farm programs on the taxpayer. 

The Governing Board of the National Council of Churches instructs the General Secretary to ask Congress and the appropriate Committees of Congress to docket this proposed legislation for immediate consideration upon the convening of Congress in January 1987. 

The General Secretary is also instructed to inform the President of the United States and the Secretary of Agriculture of this action by the National Council of Churches and our expectation for support from the Administration. 

Note accompanying analysis of Save-The-Family-Farm, Act of 1986. 


Since its beginnings, the National Council of Churches has voiced opposition to all forms of racism and anti-semitism. It has expressed concern about the recurring signs of Nazism and for the victims of Klu Klux Klan violence. In the Theological Statement of Racial Justice, the Governing Board reiterated this concern when it stated that: 

“Racism is an expression of idolatry replacing faith in the God who made all people and who raised Jesus from the dead with the belief in the superiority of one race over another or in the universality of a particular form of culture.” 

Because of the “Christian Identity” movement’s ideological under- girding for racist violence, it represents a threat to the Christian understanding of the Gospel. “Identity” doctrine is preached at rallies by the para-military White Patriot Party in North Carolina, at survivalist encampments in many sections of the Midwest, and in the halls of the Aryan Nation in the Pacific Northwest. “Christian Identity” played a major role in The Order, an armed criminal underground organization. In addition, Identity ideology has promoted a practical working unity among geographically disparate organizations and groups. 

“Christian Identity” centers around the belief that the people of Northern Europe — white Anglo-Saxons — are the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Jews are considered to be the Children of Satan, and racial ethnic people are considered to be “pre-Adamic” — a lower species than people of European ancestry. 

“Christian Identity” is neither a single organization nor a monolithic doctrine. Instead it is composed of hundreds of small groupings throughout the United States. It is not confined to any single region of the country, and small Identity churches exist in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and in the rural hills of Arkansas. Some Identity groups are directly engaged in political action — often violent political action and others are content simply to pass their racist heritage on to their children. Therefore, the most helpful model with which to understand “Christian Identity” is to regard it as a movement rather than a denomination. The Identity movement is composed of interactive parts that continually develop and re-develop its ideological and organizational expression. 

The development of para-military activity within the Identity movement is tue result of a convergence of the impulse towards armed violence within the general racist population and an impulse towards armed activity from within Identity ideology itself. Any analysis of para-military activity within the Identity movement must take both sources into account. “Christian Identity” has emerged as a primary religious and spiritual orientation of the Far Right. It incorporates the major neo-Nazi themes, while maintaining itself as an “American” phenomenon. Recently the U.S. has been undergoing a resurgence of bigotry under the guide of Christianity. This resurgence is a deep, ugly stain in American society. 

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA: 

Reaffirms its commitment to Racial Justice and its opposition to the ideology of the “Christian Identity” movement.

2. Condemn the Identity movement’s perversion of Christianity as a pretext for hatred, racism and anti-semitism. 

3. Calls on its member communions to educate their constituencies about the nature and purpose of the “Christian Identity” movement. 

4. Calls on the Division of Church and Society to keep the NCCC member communions informed about the “Christian Identity” movement. 

Rural Crisis: A Call for Justice and Action

Message adapted by the Governing Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., May 17, 1984


We warn that America is teetering on the slopes of a dark precipice: we are dangerously close to abandoning the egalitarian and communitarian goals of our religious and social heritage. We are well on the way to becoming a landless and fragmented people subject to the whims of those few holding disproportionate wealth and power.

Like our ancestors of the Farmers Alliance of 100 years ago, our cry seems to be lost in the void. Then, as now, family farmers were being driven off the land due to a mixture of high interest rates, low prices for farm produce, and a stagnant economy. Now, as then, the people of the land are told that this is the result of the inevitable march of history, that this disenfranchisement of the people from the land marks a steady onrush of the tide of progress. One hundred years ago the people of the land looked in vain to their elected representatives for assistance. Now, as then, our congress has favored the proponents of the “trickle-down” theory of economics, allowing the wealthy to pile riches upon riches while the people of the land diminish in number.

Our present period of crisis is unparalleled since the days of the Great Depression. An economic crisis in agriculture – one result of decades of public policy aimed at displacing people from the land – hastens the demise of our family – owned and operated – farms. Ownership and control of our rich land base is being consolidated at an alarming rate, and the loss of farms and people from the countryside is causing serious economic problems in our rural communities. Our cities re experiencing high unemployment rates among workers associated with agriculture-related industries. The economy of our states and of the nation itself is deteriorating because the foundation of that economy – agriculture – is suffering extraordinary losses.

This course of tragedy, which can be charted by statistics, masks an ever deeper and widespread suffering in the countryside. Economic stress results in personal and family stress. Many farm families facing financial difficulties are being personally blamed for their plight, even though it is due to circumstances well beyond their control. There are signs of increasing family tensions and even family violence, and the outright discussion of larger acts of violence against people and institutions indifferent to the rural crisis is heard more and more often.

The Crisis of Values – The Need for the Faith Community

One hundred years ago the Populists raised the alarm that the values of the day – the notorious “Gilded Age” – glorified greed, ruthless competition, and embodied an ethic of “progress” which was devoid of humanity. They demanded that the human costs of this so-called progress become a prime factor in policy decisions, and championed coalitions among farmers and city workers, among black and white persons alike.

The Populists’ most dire warnings have gone unheeded. The crushing effects of “progress” have proceeded apace. 

Where does this all end? When so-called rural communities consist entirely of urban bedroom commuters? When small businesses have4 been entirely supplanted by national chain-stores? When the number of farmers has been reduced to 10,000 per state, or 1,000 or 100? Who will decide that enough is too much. And by utilizing which values?

It is into this ethical vacuum that members of the faith community, and their organizational leadership, must plunge. It is true that over the past fifteen years individuals, churches, and representative bodies of the Christian faith have spoken often and eloquently in support of family farm agriculture and of the principle of widespread ownership of land. Yet, the larger society’s pursuit of unbridled individualism and of the accumulation of wealth without limit has continued without interruption.

Perhaps we of the church have been too silent, permitting our leaders to speak alone. Perhaps we have relegated the warnings of the prophets and the lessons of Scripture to the “safety” of a dead past. Perhaps we have forgotten that it was to the chosen people of Israel that Amos presented his list of grievances and his call to repentance. The Israelites, like us, had been very attentive to retaining the forms of religion, but had forgotten its substance. They had grown proud in their successes, and the wealthy rulers and their economic allies had come to oppress their people and to cheat the poor.

Perhaps we, like the Israelites of old, have turned our stony hearts from the message of Moses and the prophets and pursued other gods by making the economy and its siren song of promised individual enrichment fuel our greed and harden our hearts to the growing number of landless and poor among us.

The people of the land demand that we be loyal to our faith and, in so doing, come to their assistance.

The Terms and Promise of God’s Covenant

God’s promise was not limited in time. It and the terms of the Covenant, remain as valid for us today as thousands of years ago. In sum, God’s people were called to exercise loving stewardship over all of creation – land and creatures alike. Such were to be conserved in their use so that their blessings would continue for further generations. Further, we were to properly order our use and disbursement of those resources with regard to each other in order that God’s justice might reign. Greed, the accumulation of more than each person needs, and the driving of growing numbers of persons into poverty are absolutely inconsistent with God’s justice. All of us concerned today with the need for true peace in our war-threatened world should recall that peace was God’s promise to those who exercised the terms of the Covenant stewardship and justice.


God still calls us to give our all to the creation of a just world and, even now, summons us to action and justice with and on behalf of the suffering people of the land, regardless of color, race or creed.

We pledged ourselves to heed that call! 

We call upon our brothers and sisters of good will:

To realize a conversion of heart, to recognize that the values of individual enrichment and material accumulation are false gods, designed not only to lead one from God’s Covenant but to destroy community and harmony in our land. 

To remember the teachings of Francis of Assisi, who counseled the need to live in harmony with nature and to utilize tenderness in our dealings with others, and not follow the path of competition or hostility; who spoke of the ned to live minimally, and not to pursue the accumulation of surplus goods; and who said that we must live as an integral part of nature, not as one sundered from our roots; from the land and each other.

To stand side by side with their neighbors who suffer personal loss as a result of the economic crisis on the land, and to bring to a halt once and for all the demise of family farm agriculture by supporting actions and public policies that will bring about peaceful change in rural America.

We call upon our church leaders to make the continuing tragedy of rural America – the erosion of our fields and small communities, the demise of family farming and the forced liquidation of family farm operations, the growing concentration of land ownership – an urgent part of each church’s national agenda for action.

We call upon church leaders and members alike to press for enlightened public policy that will end existing favoritism towards speculators in land ownership and to create, in turn, public policy that has as its aim the preservation of diverse ownership of land and the continuation of the family farm system with its attendant values of stewardship, family, and community responsibility.

This we do as a people of God, struggling to be honest to the call to discipleship in rural America and all the world, and believing that future generations will judge us harshly if we fail in this time of grave urgency.

This message is from the Conference “The Church Encounters the Rural Crisis,” Des Moines, Iowa, October 4-6, 1983

Sponsored by the Iowa Inter-Church Forum, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Rural America, Rural Iowa and the NCCC/Division of Church and Society

This Message and the Rural Crisis Resource Kit are available* from:

Division of Church & Society, Domestic Hunger and Poverty

National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

475 Riverside Drive, Room 572

New York, N.Y. 10115

*as of 1983