Jesse Jackson: A New Direction in Farm Policy

In Iowa and across the Midwest, the hopes and dreams of thousands of family farmers are now on the auction block. Iowa has lost 10,000 farms since the Reagan administration came into office. A crisis of proportions unseen since the thirties is stalking the countryside, leaving in its wake, poverty, despair, broken homes, and broken hearts.

Farming is a science and an at. Farmers are professionals who spend their entire lives honing their skills and passing their knowledge on to their children. To separate these professionals from their professions by economic force should be considered nothing short of criminal.

Every Iowan understands the role that agriculture plays in the broader scheme of things. It is part of the foundation this country was built on. Weaken that foundation and the entire building is in danger of crumbling. The crisis engulfing rural Iowa is coming home to roost in our towns and cities. Between 1979 and 1985, 55– small town businesses closed their doors. In 1985 and 1986, twenty-one Iowa banks failed, and the rate is the same for this year.

Farm Foreclosures lead to plant closures. We can’t afford the luxury of fighting among ourselves, or hunting for scapegoats. Town and country, rural and urban, one can’t do without one another. Famers need a fair price just as workers need a living wage. Both must join hands and walk forward together. Our very survival is at stake.

We reap what we sow. No one plants corn and harvests wheat, it’s just not possible. The same is the case with the Reagan farm policy, which promotes the concentration of the food industry into fewer and fewer hands. From it grew a harvest of despair.

Farmers want parity, not charity. A fair price is a price that meets the cost of production. When farmers don’t receive a fair price the countryside becomes submerged into a sea of debt.

We need a working system of supply management. This would eliminate the need to store runaway commodity surpluses, while making the welfare subsidy program unnecessary. It is critical that measures called for in the Family Farm Act are put into practice. This would bring the surplus under control, while giving the producers themselves say over how this should be done. The Act includes safeguards for low income consumers, which would offset any possible rise in food prices.

Some are against effective supply management. It’s not popular with the grain speculators of the Chicago Board of Trade. It will cut into the profit margins of farm chemical and oil companies that produce fertilizers and pesticides. The multi-national food corporations that have been growing fat on farm subsidies are lining up against it.[1]

Government policy shouldn’t assist those who are out to farm the farmer. Profits for food processing companies increased 13% in 1986;[2] most farm prices fell 6-9%. This year 76 cents out of every food dollar will go to middlemen. The grocer gets more for the coupon on the box of Rice Krispies than the farmer gets for the rice in the product.

If managing supplies means consumers pay a few pennies more in the short run, preserving the family farm will save us all dollars in the long run. Monopoly agriculture will give a handful of huge food corporations undue influence over the prices that consumers would pay.

Farm policy needs more than a cosmetic change, it needs a new direction. Supply can’t control American agriculture. Agriculture must take control of supply. We need to restructure farm debt. We must add a temporary moratorium on foreclosures to our country’s political agenda.

The Farmers Home Administration has taken over 5000 farms – a total of 1.5 million acres. The Farm Credit System is holding 2.2 million acres. The FmHA and the FCS are selling off the land at firesale prices to speculators and agri-business. The men and women who worked the land, giving so much of themselves, must have the right to buy back or lease their land at today’s lower interest rates. Packages o sell inventoried land to corporate America must instead be prepared for beginning, restructuring, and minority farmers.

The world is full of hunger. The Iowa farmer is one of the most efficient food producers in the world. It is not rational that farms in Iowa are going under because too much has been produced. Nor does the Reagan administration’s refrain, “produce more for exports” make sense, it only results in other governments increasing their farm subsidies to stay in competitive and adds to the surplus in the international market.[3] Third word countries end up exporting more cash crops to get badly needed foreign exchange, while at the same time weakening their ability to feed their own people. We must correlate production with hungry people.

America has come to the fork in the road and new leadership is needed to take us in the right direction. Construction is better than destruction. Our national priorities must place farms ahead of arms, if we are to live in a secure world. Food to the hungry will do more to promote peace, than weapons to the contras. Dollars which are now pouring into defense boondogles must be shifted into nutritional programs for our nation’s children. A nation which neglects its young is a nation at risk.

Creative solutions are needed to solve the problems of rural America. I have called for an international conference that would bring together the feeders and the eaters, the producers and the consumers. We need trade that’s aimed at meeting need. We must bring food to those who are hungry, while assuring that farmers get their due. If we work to meet need while curbing greed, our dreams can be realized.


[1] This sentence may be misleading, in that it sounds close to a technical error even as it expresses the essence of the problem. Free markets are the economic cause of cheap market prices which subsidize these corporations, and the weakening (and later elimination) of market management provisions in the farm bill is the political cause. So this system of lower and lower minimum farm price floors, is the policy cause of the cheap prices that subsidize the food corporations. They get (from farmers,) something like 8 times more than the subsidies the government pays back to farmers. The (inadequate) farm subsidies are correlated with the cheap prices, but do not cause the cheap prices. Bottom line: the “farm subsidies” that the corporations get are paid by farmers, (are from farmers,) when farmers sell to them at cheap, below cost, market prices.

[2] 1986, right after passage of the 1985 Reagan farm bill, which made the farm crisis even worse.

[3] The Reagan administration and it’s friends in Congress, (and similar voices earlier and later,) promised that the cheaper market prices would lead to great increases in international sales, and later, higher prices, but we now know that neither one came true. See: Daryll E. Ray, Agricultural Policy Research Center: “Exports: Does Lowering the Price to Capture Market Share Work in the Grain Markets?”8/4/00, ; “Allowing Grain Prices to Fall Does Not Stave Off Loss of Export Market Share,” 8/11/00, ; “Corn exports: A case of unrealized expectations and farm policies that did not deliver,” ; “Are “things different now” so that low prices will cure low prices?” , etc.


“Jesse Jackson and Rural America: Together We All Win,” Jesse Jackson Campaign 1988, (see archive below,)

“1988 Presidential forum on Agriculture and Rural Life,” YouTube, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,

“Jesse Jackson ’88 Iowa Campaign Headquarters records, 1987-1988,” from Jesse Jackson ’88 Iowa Campaign Headquarters (Greenfield, Iowa) 1987, in Des Moines Historical Library Manuscripts (MS2014.7 ).


One thought on “Jesse Jackson: A New Direction in Farm Policy

  1. Pingback: Jesse Jackson and Rural America: Together We All Win | familyfarmjustice

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