Election, Rural Vote, Donald Trump: Why and What We Need to Do

RURAL FARM JUSTICE WORK: NEEDED AGAIN NOW

In light of the election and the rural vote for Donald Trump: the Family Farm Movement has not been doing it’s job of leadership on Farm Justice, leading to hopelessness, and abandoning rural people to the wrong kind of organizations and leaders. In the past, we in (‘white’) Iowa, for example, fought hard for economic and social justice at the national and global levels, as well as the state level.

Iowa CCI brought inner city minorities (Des Moines, Chicago and beyond) together with ‘white’ Iowa farmers on common issues of economic and racial justice, such as urban and rural redlining by banks, (activism around the Community Reinvestment Act,) and, via National Peoples’ Action, helping to mobilize national inner city groups to confront Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, (George Bush Jr.,) over the Pork Checkoff, a tax on independent hog farmers that works against independent family farmers. And visa versa, with farmers coming to understand and support inner city minority activists and hispanic packing plant workers.

cci-farm-race

Iowa CCI farm and urban activists joined with urban activists from Chicago to confront rural banker Alan Tubbs in Maquoketa Iowa, then president of the American Bankers Association, 1990s.

PrairieFire Rural Action mobilized churches to fight for a Farm Bill with adequate minimum price floors instead of any subsidies, plus fairness for black farmers, plus confrontation of ‘Christian’ ‘hate’ groups like the ‘Christian Identity Movement. All of this was supported by National Catholic Rural Life and it’s regional directors around Iowa, and by the North American Farm Alliance. Today these concerns continue to be addressed by the National Family Farm Coalition.

See these historical examples of PrairieFire’s work with churches: major church resolutions for a “farm justice” farm bill, protections for black farmers, and opposition to racist rural hate groups. https://www.facebook.com/notes/brad-wilson/faith-statements-on-farm-justice/1122548247782922

THE ECONOMIC/POLITICAL NARRATIVE OF FARM JUSTICE WAS MISSING

The problem is that farm groups have felt too weak to do the national work for economic justice, as they’ve seen no significant urban-side support on issues like fighting against cheap corn, (but see below,) and funding has dried up for a broad range of farm justice work. PrairieFire, for example, went out of business during the 1990s for lack of funds, as did the North American Farm Alliance. Other organizations have had to find other strategies in order to survive.

This has significantly reduced leadership out of the Family Farm Movement’s “radical center” economic narrative with which they have long won debates against the dominant narrative, which is primarily economic. First, a “farm justice” farm bill, is needed because free markets have chronically failed for agriculture, (http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/268.html ; http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/008.html ) for 150 years and on into the 21st century. These markets “lack price responsiveness” (http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/248.html ) “on both the supply and the demand side for aggregate agriculture” (http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/325.html ).

The farm bill fixed this with minimum Price Floors, like Minimum Wage, and these were set for “living wage” results, (at 90% of “parity,”) as a private sector economic stimulus during and after World War II.

This leads to the Family Farm Movement’s “radical center” political strategies, which has many advantages over plain progressivism. All too often, progressives are inclined to advocate “For People, Not for Profit,” conceding the core issues of the dominant narrative to conservatives, even though conservatives are weak on those issues, even though they lose on these issues in farm country, as highlighted above. It’s like saying to Republicans and the Farm Bureau and the big commodity groups:  we win caring, but you win income, wealth creation, jobs, and support for farmers.  No they don’t!   They side with agribusiness against authentic farm interests, https://zcomm.org/zblogs/farmer-front-groups-and-the-agribusiness-bribe/ , against profit, (see charts here,) against wealth creation. (John Ikerd, http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ra08/ikerd_low_res.pdf )

There are two current farm justice farm bill proposals, (plus one for dairy). One is the Market Driven Inventory System, (MDIS) of the National Farmers Union. (http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/608.html ; http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/583.html ) Note the title. It’s not very catchy. It’s designed for a conservative audience, against the dominant narrative, as a no-nonsense business approach, to run the farm programs like a business. That’s how to talk about it to conservatives. It calls for “inventory management” for US agriculture, (the dominant global player and global price setter). Other businesses do it, why not farmers? (http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/316.html )

Another current proposal is the Food from Family Farms Act (FFFA) of the National Family Farm Coalition. Like MDIS, and the earlier Harkin-Gephardt proposals, it eliminates the need for any farm subsidies, thus freeing up a large amount of farm bill money for other uses. Conservative rural Republicans like Iowa Senator Charles Grassley and the Farm Bureau have supported the farm bills of the past 40 years. Basically, these, and their immediate predecessors have turned the farm bill away from the business approach and turned it into a massive welfare program, where free market failures are allowed to continue massively. The conservative solution has been to then write a government check to everyone in the marketplace. It’s as if they ended the minimum wage, and wages dropped by $3.00 per hour, and then they wrote all of those people a government check for $1.85! That’s what a Republican Farm Bill is.

Gov Costs 88 95

In various econometric studies, government spending is much lower with the proposals that the Family Farm Movement has proposed than with those that conservatives have proposed.

This all then leads to the United States losing money on farm exports to “foreigners,” (again, I’m writing for a conservative audience). So as OPEC has managed it’s supply and increased it’s profits, the US, with even greater export market share in major farm exports (than OPEC in oil exports,) has chosen to make less money, has chosen, in fact, to export at less than full costs of production for all of the major crops for decades (USDA-Economic Research Service, http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/commodity-costs-and-returns.aspx ), with few exceptions.

Export Valu 88 95

From econometric research comparing the Democratic Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill with the Republican Farm Bill that Ronald Reagan signed.  

All of these huge government costs and reductions in income from farm exports has been repeatedly confirmed by major econometric studies, from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Clearly, family farmers quite easily win debates on these issues against conservative Republicans and those who vote for them. But that only happens when there are Family Farm (Farm Justice) organizations doing this work. (See above and below!)

LOSS OF RESOURCES TO ADDRESS RURAL SOCIAL TRAUMA

Another key issue, (with the huge reductions in the funding of Family Farm (Farm Justice) organizations since the 1980s,) is the taking away of resources for addressing rural social trauma, which has become historical trauma, including hotlines to address everything from suicide, to foreclosure, to hopeful activism. This was lost on a massive scale as Family Farm organizations lost the resources to do farm justice work. While in earlier decades, they led the day against racism and hate, these leadership organizations and staff and projects have been lost.

Related to this is the whole history of farmer bashing by urban society, but especially by agribusiness and it’s front groups decades, (i.e. 60s, 70s, 80s,) then sometimes by progressive social scientists, (90s) and more recently by the new Food Movement and mainstream media, (2000s,) based on it’s misunderstanding of the farm subsidy issue. While I initially hoped that the Farm Subsidy Database would help expose the absurdity of reducing (1953-1995) and ending (1996-2018) fair price programs, that absurdity remains almost totally unknown in some of the most important ways, (i.e. re. the alternative farm bill proposals described above). The Database has become primarily a format for Puritan shaming of farmers, (the victims,) instead of mega-agribusiness, (the hidden exploiters). Think “Scarlet Letter.”

THE FAILURE OF THE FOOD MOVEMENT TO LISTEN TO FARM JUSTICE

I’ve been working for 30 years to bring the message of Farm Justice to urban food consumers and taxpayers. Finally in the 21st century we have a huge Food side Movement that opposes “cheap corn,” “cheap food.” Unfortunately they don’t know how to do that in technically correct ways. Mostly they call for merely continuing subsidies, without addressing the underlying problems, or for merely ending farm subsidies. Either way the conservative free market approach is preserved. So though they value farmers in rhetoric, they oppose Farm Justice where it really counts, in Farm Bill advocacy. Additionally, they have neglected to listen to the farmers of farm justice, to hear our story, and to support us in our fight against rural economic and social injustices. By not listening, they own a piece of the Trump victory, which, I think, will lead to a Farm Bill disaster, (given the  strengthened Republican leadership against farmers on one side, and the misunderstandings and increased negative views of rural voters, on the urban side.

Rice & Subsid14

Urban progressives have called for erasing the yellow subsidy line for crops like rice, wheat cotton, corn and soybeans, but that does nothing about the lack of any minimum price floor, (red line,) or the record low farm prices, (blue line).  Prices are projected to stay low for 10 more years, with reduced subsidies.

For 8 years I’ve written more than 100 blogs on these issues, posted dozens of responses to food and food sovereignty lists, (including contact with major food academics,) and made thousands of online comments, (not counting thousands of tweets,) on these issues, but there hasn’t been much listening. I’ve attended food conferences in Milwaukee, Oakland, New York City, Boston (Harvard,) and other cities, (including urban race and food conferences and workshops,) bringing out these concerns, and at the results weren’t much better, (though urban racial minorities have been among the best listeners). The major food op-ed site, Civil Eats, has blocked me, and others, (there and on twitter,) without ever engaging in communication with us about their concerns, or ours.

One of the key issues is farm subsidies, as here. https://zcomm.org/zblogs/subsidy-narratives-how-foodies-unknowingly-bash-family-farmers/

Behind this is not knowing ‘what’ a Farm Bill is. https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/whats-farm-bill

CONCLUSION

Family farmers and Farm Justice organizations need the support of the urban Food Movement and related sectors to survive and restore the work I’ve described above. This movement is a blessing to farmers with an enormous potential. That potential has not yet been realized, and without that, our farm side potentials have deteriorated. This all can and must be fixed in order to reverse the Trump phenomenon in it’s rural components.

I hope that now is a teachable moment on both sides of these questions.

FURTHER READING

Siena Chrisman, “Want to Understand Trump’s Rise? Head to the Farm,” Civil Eats, 10/27/16 http://civileats.com/2016/10/27/want-to-understand-trumps-rise-head-to-the-farm/

Iowa Farm Activist, (Brad Wilson,) “Siena Chrisman on Trump and Agriculture,” Daily Kos, 10/31/16, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/10/31/1589034/-Siena-Chrisman-on-Trump-and-Agriculture .

Brad Wilson, “Rural Trump Vote: Who’s Behind the Trauma?” Brad Wilson on Facebook, Photo Album, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1160645510656537&set=a.1149482558439499.1073741841.100001332982534&type=3&theater .

“Faith Statements on Farm Justice,” (from PrairieFire Rural Action for National Council of Churches of Christ,) (FaceBook, public,) https://www.facebook.com/notes/brad-wilson/faith-statements-on-farm-justice/1122548247782922 .  These show responses to address issues ranging from economic trauma to racist victim blaming.

Brad Wilson, “The Election as Moby Dick: The Failure of Starbucks against Captain Ahab,” Facebook, Brad Wilson, Notes, 11/23/16, https://www.facebook.com/notes/brad-wilson/the-election-as-moby-dick-the-failure-of-starbucks-against-captain-ahab/1147218288649251 .

Joel Dyer, “The New Harvest of Rage,” Boulder Weekly, 10/27/16, http://www.boulderweekly.com/news/the-new-harvest-of-rage/ .

Joel Dyer, Harvest of Rage, Why Oklahoma City is Only the Beginning, Boulder:  Westview Press, 1998.  (Here’s a short video review:   “Politics Book Review: Harvest Of Rage: Why Oklahoma City Is Only The Beginning by Joel Dyer,” YouTube:  PoliticsBookMix, 1/14/13.)

Osha Gray Davidson, Broken Heartland:  The Rise of America’s Rural Ghetto, Iowa City:  University of Iowa Press, 1990.

Daniel Levitas, The Terrorist Next Door:  The Militia Movement and the Radical Right, New York:  Thomas Dunne, 2002.  Levitas worked for PrairieFire Rural Action in Iowa during the 1980s farm crisis.

K. Schmidt, ed., Renew the Spirit of My People:  A Handbook for Ministry in Times of Rural Crisis, Des Moines, PrairieFire Rural Action, 1987. This addresses the full range of issues, from economic trauma and the big Farm Bill issues, to psycho-social trauma, (including the “far-right,” appeals to racist approaches), to prophetic responses for churches.

I have an extensive collection of online materials documenting the ways that the new Food Movement’s failure to adequately listen to and understand the voices of farm justice. I’ll post additional summary material that makes those resources more accessible, and link that here.

(Note: This was originally published on LinkedIn in my group Farm Justice for Family Farmers, and has been further edited and expanded.)

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The ‘Feed the World’ Debate: 2 Reviews

As U.S. agricultural yields have increased, farmers have often been paid less.  Consider wheat.

wheat-yield-value

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

This is a combination review of two recent articles criticizing the idea that U.S. agriculture does and should “Feed the World.  While I don’t agree with the original idea, the criticisms have serious flaws as well.  My basic thesis is that the Environmental Working Group, (in a recent report,) and Alan Guebert, (a farm journalist,) are weak against the idea that “we, (U.S. agriculture,) feeds the world.”

First I review: Anne Weir Schechinger and Craig Cox, “Feeding the World: Think U.S. Agriculture Will End World Hunger? Think Again,” Enviornmental Working Group, 10/6/16, http://www.ewg.org/research/feeding-the-world?inlist=Y&utm_source=201610News&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=201610News .

At the bottom I’ve added a review of: Alan Guebert, “Guebert: We feed the world is ‘not a harmless myth,’” The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com/business/guebert-we-feed-the-world-is-not-a-harmless-myth/article_d0bcaa0d-fbec-5ecd-b2e2-83f06f597654.html .  The Guebert piece is based on the EWG piece, and he also references a piece in The Des Moines Register on October 10, (also about the EWG piece).

For some of my previous criticisms of Environmental Working Group and Alan Guebert, see “For Further Reading,” at the bottom.

SYNOPSIS

While EWG’s Weir and Cox and Alan Guebert are well meaning, and make some very important points, their goal is subverted by a series of flaws.

[1.] the real issue is “pay the world,” (farmers,) not “feed the world.” Only when you pay them fairly can global farmers adequately feed themselves and their regions.  What’s more, paying global farmers fairly begins with paying U.S. farmers fairly, as we set world prices.

[2.]  U.S. farm productivity is very important in the equation, but in different ways than what EWG and Guebert have claimed. We have no false arrogance in thinking we’re a big deal globally. We are the big deal, and so it’s essential that we be properly understood, which we are not, in these sources.

[3.]  The solution is in the direction of reduced production, not the increased overproduction that agribusiness wants. Here Guebert supports EWG’s mistaken call for increased production, policies that will starve the world.

[4.] This problem hasn’t arisen from a quest for “profit” for U.S. “agriculture.” It’s arisen from policies and programs where the US, in it’s agriculture, has been losing money on farm exports over decades, as the evidence clearly shows.

[5.] The interests of farmers and agribusiness are clearly NOT much the same, as claimed by agribusiness, by EWG, and here by Guebert. They’re opposites.

[6.]  The key sector that has had the competence to see through the myths is the Family Farm Movement, which has long centered it’s focus on the issues of “farm justice.

In the final analysis, in light of flaws like these, EWG, Guebert, and many others have become, in important ways, duped by the dominant narrative of agribusiness.

ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP ON FEEDING THE WORLD

This is a hugely important topic, and there is some good information and there are some good generalizations in the EWG materials.

On the other hand, they really miss the mark on the biggest issues, and fail to put together the obvious information to offer the major solution that’s needed. They misunderstand the politics of narrative, (unknowingly) siding with agribusiness against their own obvious goals. As a result, they offer weak solutions while implicitly praising agribusiness for it’s worst role in causing starvation. They also misunderstand the relationship between US farmers and agribusiness, often failing to distinguish between the two, thus seeming to lump US farmers in with the pro-starvation agenda of agribusiness, (as if US farmers and agribusiness have the same interests, instead of having opposite interests).

SO CLOSE, YET SO FAR

Weir and Cox correctly tell how most of the hungry are rural, and that they’re hungry because of poverty. The hunger is worsened by important additional factors (i.e. lack of infrastructure, lack of investment by the governments of these countries,) which are closely tied to the poverty of these nations as a whole. These countries may be 69% rural or more (the average for Least Developed Countries). Clearly, then, we’re talking about rural poverty, about the farm economy, (topics which the Environmental Working Group has never understood, and where they’ve played a leading role in misinforming the public, as here). In fairly recent analysis, 80% of the “undernourished” were found to be rural, (see p. 3 here: http://www.fao.org/docrep/012/i0680e/i0680e00.htm ; and according to Harvard’s Robert Paarlberg, “undernourished” is a conservative estimate of how many are hungry). Of the growing urban 20%, many of them had been forced into the cities from rural areas by poverty. For example, the rural population of least developed countries, countries which have remained in chronic poverty, has shrunk from 92.5% in 1950 to 87.2 in 1970 to 79.9 in 1990 to 68.6% by 2015. (Based on “Annual Percentage of Population at Mid-Year Residing in Urban Areas,” https://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/DataQuery/ )

Therefore, the obvious conclusion ….

Here Weir and Cox fail to take the next step. The key to ending hunger is for farmers to be paid more, (higher farm prices, not just higher wages for nonfarmers,) and a key to that is to prevent OVERproduction. So the biggest issue is that of farm prices, (not mentioned,) not wages (mentioned repeatedly, and also very important, but tied to the farm economy throughout the rural regions of the world).

Cheap prices and chronic overproduction starves the world. The US, (the price leader setting major global prices,) has reduced our Price Floor and supply reduction programs, (our market prices, with help from oversupply,) drastically, starting in 1953, and achieving repeated record low prices after the ending of these farm programs in 1996. Our farmers lost money (vs full costs) on a sum of 8 major crops every year 1981-2006 (except 1996) and on to today for 5 of them (every year but one,) and all 8 again in 2015 (http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/commodity-costs-and-returns.aspx ).

Weir and Cox correctly understand that “feed the world” is agribusiness spin, but they too get taken in by the spin, themselves spreading it’s worst aspects. Specifically, in the report they state:

“U.S. agricultural production does help keep food prices down. In general, the larger the supply of agricultural products, the lower the global market prices will be. It follows that if the U.S. were to produce less while demand stayed the same, global food prices would rise, hurting the 19 undernourished countries…. U.S. production does help hungry populations by keeping food prices relatively low, but the United States cannot rely solely on its impact on prices to help feed the hungry.” (p. 11-12)

What’s wrong with this statement? Well, the “undernourished countries” are farming countries. So Weir and Cox are arguing that the poverty in the (80%) farming countries is hurt by reduced production that causes increases in farm prices. They’re arguing that “feed the world” kinds of overproduction, which reduces the income of farmers, (causing rural poverty that spreads to nonfarm rural jobs and makes these countries poor in infrastructure and governmental money,) is a good thing for farming (“undernourished”) countries. No it is not a good thing! Overproduction and cheap farm prices in places like Africa is a huge cause of food poverty. It’s what starves the poor, it is not “help” for the 80% of the hungry who are rural. (See the article link below on EWG’s previous misunderstanding of these issues, in contrast to the views of the WTO Africa Group, which has supported my views, as has La Via Campesina [also linked].)

So EWG’s statement that we “cannot rely solely on” oversupply and cheap farm prices “to help feed the hungry,” (emphasis added,) must be turned around, by 180º We may be able to rely “solely” on cheap US farm prices to starve a significant portion of the world. The various statements of Weir and Cox, then, are so weak as to be on the wrong side of the issues, to be on the pro-agribusiness, pro-starvation side, because “feed the world” really means “starve the world.”

ALAN GUEBERT’S SUPPORT FOR EWG

Alan Guebert is a long time “ag” journalist who has gotten many issues right. In recent years, however, he’s become a sort of “foodie,” misunderstanding the biggest issues, (including the Farm Bill). Apparently he has never been a part of farm-related social movements, so he hasn’t really been in the loop of the most powerful narrative fights around the major issues, at least on the farmer or “farm justice” side of them, (as he certainly follows the mainstream ag press). That hasn’t usually been visible, as much of his work has exposed injustices. His latest piece illustrates his movement toward common Food Movement misunderstandings.

He begins with a discussion of the Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database, which, he claims, “American farmers love to hate,” “especially the Big Boys.” Of course, that’s not true, as the majority of farmers have long criticized the subsidy system, and called for fair prices instead of any subsidies (i.e. in a variety of polls, and at the United Farmer and Rancher Congress). Most serious advocates were glad at the exposure of the stupidity of writing a check to everyone in the key sectors of the entire U.S. marketplace, while the U.S. chose to lose money on farm exports. They called for restoration of market management policies and programs, to fix the chronic failure of ‘free’ farm markets.

GUEBERT’S SLOPPINESS AND MISTAKES

The sloppiness of Guebert’s analysis is illustrated in his claim that “No one, however, complained about the [farm subsidy] database’s accuracy.” Actually it’s many inaccuracies have beeb readily apparent. Throughout it’s history, the amount given in an individual search has not always showed up as the same number on the list of the top recipients. These inaccuracies don’t distract from the general principle of the database, however, which is that farmers have been paid a lot of money. That general principle has almost always been misinterpreted, however, in that the larger economic and political context undergirding the subsidy issue has almost always been misunderstood outside of the Family Farm Movement, (which has always opposed the subsidy approach). (https://familyfarmjustice.me/2016/05/25/subsidies-vs-price-floors-in-farm-bill-history-revised/ )

More specifically, Guebert makes the same general mistake that we find in mainstream media and among Food and Environmental groups like EWG. He clearly assumes a case of an abuse of taxpayer money, following the EWG approach (i.e. naively assuming that farmers and agribusiness share the same interests, not opposing interests). That is, he criticizes subsidies without placing the money in the larger context of the lowering of farm prices, by Congress, to appease corporate lobbyists working directly against authentic farmer interests. So, like EWG, while meaning well, Guebert naively sides with agribusiness exploiters against farmer victims.

Market prices for corn, to take the biggest example, were below full costs, (as measured by USDA-ERS, Commodity Costs and Returns,) every year 1981-2006 except 1996, and they’re down there again 2014-2015. This means a negative return on investments in land, machinery and facilities. Rice was below full costs every year 1982-2006. Wheat has been above full costs only 4 times since ERS started computing this data in 1975. In my estimate, these economic realities have largely been ignored by more than 95% of those writing about farm subsidies today.

EWG, for example, has discounted the recent drop in farm prices, (i.e. sub $3.00 corn). Likewise, on one hand, EWG and others have criticized crop insurance companies for receiving 18% return on equity instead of a “reasonable” 13%. On the other hand, they’ve tended to place farmers in the same context, when in fact, (unknown to them,) farmers have seldom received double digit ROEs, let alone 13%, (which is low for the true farm bill beneficiaries, the agribusiness buyers and sellers, most of the time for decades, as Al Krebs and others have documented, [The Corporate Reapers, cf. Frank LeRoux, The Farmers Worst Five {or Seven or Nine, etc.,} Years, 4 editions, for earlier decades, cf. http://www.nfu.ca/sites/www.nfu.ca/files/corporate_profits.pdf ]).

To Guebert, then, “EWG fired a powerful, well-documented volley at the most sacred tenet in American agriculture, ‘We Feed The World,’ and hit it smack in the face.” As I’ve pointed out above, and in the links below, that’s far from the truth.

Guebert and EWG are surely correct that our exports and food aid don’t much go to countries where large numbers of people are hungry, and that “None of this should surprise anyone.” Like EWG, he’s also correct that “We Feed the World” is used as ideological spin. What’s hardly clarified at all, however, is that the spin is directed first toward farmers, to cover up the exploitation of farmers. Thus when Guebert mentions the consequences what he frames as “not a harmless myth,” he starts with damage to the environment and to public health, leaving out the damage to farmers. In fact he quotes the Des Moines Register as adding that it ALSO “led to low prices for farmers,” as if Guebert, an investigative reporter working on farm issues for decades, couldn’t come up with that on his own.

I see a heavy dose of liberal American puritanism in the arguments of Guebert and EWG about whether feeding the world is a “moral imperative” for the U.S. Basically they proclaim: how dare we be so arrogant as to think we’re such a big deal in global agriculture as to think we should feed the world! The plain truth is, however, that U.S. agriculture is, in our agricultural productivity, an enormously big deal. We ARE the Argentinosaurus in the room! For Decades we alone have had 50% or more of major global farm exports. That’s bigger than OPEC in oil! Without question, if we assume the (flawed) paradigm of “feed the world,” (and of Guebert and EWG,) the U.S. has long been capable of feeding the world such that we would have no hunger, and to many U.S. farmers it’s absurd that we haven’t used that productive power to end hunger, at least among hungry nonfarmers.

As rye productivity has increased, farmers have been paid less, not more.

rye-yield-value

What’s so radically misunderstood, however, is that the whole “feed the world” paradigm, as it has long been used, and as it is used here by Guebert, is much too small and distorted to really explain anything. And in the U.S., it’s mainly farmers, Family Farm activists and their close allies, who have provided an adequate alternative paradigm. Very simply, the Family Farm Movement has called for paying farmers fairly, including hungry global farmers, “paying the world!” as discussed above. And that requires supply reductions, to balance supply and demand. Again, 80% of the global “undernourished” are rural, mostly farmers, but also including nonfarmers who depend upon the farm economy and the level of farm prices. Again, that’s the real issue behind hunger. Pay the world for the food we buy from them! Farmers shouldn’t be subsidizing the world, as we’ve all done for decades, (net result = price/income reductions + subsidies back to farmers,) below full costs and below “living wage” standards, such as a “reasonable” return on equity.

Again, the U.S. very clearly is the Argentinosaurus in the metaphorical global room. Our overproduction, which comes first from the failure of ‘free’ farm markets, and secondarily from the reduction and elimination of market management policies and programs by Congress since 1953, has lowered global farm prices drastically, thus greatly fostering the global rural poverty that starves the world.

GUEBERT’S MISUSE OF WORDS– IN SUPPORT OF AGRIBUSINESS

Guebert labels this as a “for-profit approach,” as if the U.S. and U.S. “agriculture” are doing this to make a profit at the expense of others, or while ignoring the needs of others. As the full data shows, however, that’s the opposite of the truth. The policies that have helped to starve the world also have run most U.S. farmers out of business, because they’ve lowered farm prices below the cost of production, (as documented above for crops like wheat, rice and corn, barley and oats, for most years since 1981). That is, in growing these crops for export, there has been no profit for the United States as a whole, and on top of that, there has been many billions of dollars in government spending. In short, Congress has pursued these policies in order for the U.S. to NOT make a profit. This anti-farmer, anti-farm state, anti-business, anti-US approach was chosen simple because it provided hidden subsidies, (from farmers,) to the U.S. and foreign buyers of these crops, the highly concentrated middlemen.

Guebert is a writer, but part of the problem here lies in the flawed choice of words that he shares with EWG and others. We’ve seen that above in his discussion of “profit.” Likewise, though he’s supposedly a farm-side writer, he strongly accepts EWG’s framing of the issue as a “food” issue, where nonfood farm products (& exports) are belittled, (as has become widespread in today’s Food Movement paradigm, see the link below). This is a seriously inadequate paradigm, as starvation from overproduction and cheap prices can only be grasped when food and nonfood farm products are viewed jointly. In fact, in EWG’s call for increased production of food to maintain cheap prices, or to make them cheaper, (as quoted above,) is really a call for increased starvation. The nonfood uses of farm products greatly help keep global farm prices from totally collapsing. Any attempt to reduce nonfood usage to increase food availability would be devastating to hungry nations, which are, overwhelmingly, farming countries. This food-centric, anti-nonfood narrative is a widespread flaw in the narrative of the Food Movement, the Environmental Movement, mainstream media and beyond. It’s part of a broad misuse of the word “food” in the lexicon of these mainstream and movement sectors. (https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/food-its-misunderstood-misused-term )

Additionally, like EWG, Guebert’s analysis tends to bash farmers while ignoring the role of agribusiness, in part by lumping the interests of “agriculture” proper in with the interests of agribusiness, when in fact, they’re overwhelmingly opposites. (cf. https://zcomm.org/zblogs/smashing-the-illusion-farmer-clout–a-white-paper-by-brad-wilson/) We see this in his claim that “farmers, especially the Big Boys,” were opposed to exposure of farm subsidy absurdities. In so doing he lumps farmers in with agribusiness buyers, absurdly assuming a united front for the “American ag community.” So here too he comes across as a misinformed “foodie,” who doesn’t adequately understand the meaning of words like “farm” and “agriculture,” as misused in the dominant lexicon. (See: https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/farm-term-problems-its-own )

We see, then, that in a number of ways, Guebert, supports and expands upon the narrative of EWG (and that of the Des Moines Register,) that misinterprets the issues in ways that rely on, and add support to, the narrative of agribusiness exploiters. First, the issue is pay the world, not feed the world. Then global farmers can feed themselves and their regions. Second, U.S. agricultural productivity is an enormous factor that’s closely tied to this issue. We’re not at all irrelevant. We have no false arrogance in thinking we’re a big deal globally. We are the big deal, and so it’s essential that we be properly understood, which we are not, in these sources. Third, the solution is in the direction of reduced production, not the increased overproduction that agribusiness wants. Guebert supports EWG’s mistaken call for policies that will starve the world. Fourth, this problem hasn’t arisen from a quest for “profit” for U.S. “agriculture.” It’s arisen from policies and programs where the US, in it’s agriculture, has been losing money on farm exports over decades. Fifth, the interests of farmers and agribusiness are clearly NOT much the same, as claimed by agribusiness, by EWG, and here by Guebert. They’re opposites. Sixth, the key sector that has had the competence to see through the myths is the Family Farm Movement, which has long centered it’s focus on the issues of farm justice, including those affecting global hunger, and it’s misrepresentation in the dominant narrative, and among those well meaning critics who have become, in important ways, duped by the dominant narrative.

In sum, Guebert and EWG are correct about some things. In the end, they’re correct that global farmers can feed themselves and their regions. As we’ve seen, however, they cannot do this well without assistance from the U.S., the dominant global exporter. As it turns out, it’s because we’re such a dominant agricultural producer that the U.S. has been colonized by global agribusiness, which has forced us to overproduce, and to lose money on farm exports. This in turn impoverishes global farmers, causing hunger. Meanwhile, farmers themselves have been the main groups fighting against this, on behalf of themselves, on behalf of food consumers, taxpayers and the environment, and on behalf of the world’s hungry.

Soybean farmers have also been paid less as production has increased.

soybeans-yield-value

In ancient times, tribute and taxes from agriculture provided the wealth of empires. Likewise, bank robber Willie Sutton is reputed to have stated that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.” The role of the U.S. agriculture in recent decades is quite similar. Agribusiness exploits us directly because that’s where the productivity is. That exploitation is the larger issue that has long been misunderstood by groups like the Environmental Working Group. Today, it’s also misrepresented by farm reporter Alan Guebert.

FOR FURTHER READING

https://zcomm.org/zblogs/can-x-feed-the-world-wrong-question/

https://zcomm.org/zblogs/wto-africa-group-with-nffc-not-ewg-by-brad-wilson/

https://zcomm.org/zblogs/via-campesina-with-nffc-support-for-fair-farm-prices-by-brad-wilson/

https://zcomm.org/zblogs/false-on-the-food-poverty-crisis-25-online-examples-by-brad-wilson/

https://zcomm.org/zblogs/food-crisis-primer/ Cf. Next link.

On the chronic failure of ‘free’ farm markets (conservative/neoliberal economic assumptions,) see the “Why We Have Farm Bills” in https://zcomm.org/zblogs/farm-justice-primer-a-farm-bill-primer/

On Alan Guebert’s misunderstandings of the basic farm issues see: https://zcomm.org/zblogs/the-room-is-underwater-rebutting-alan-gueberts-insuring-elephants/

Expert Agroecology Report: A Farm Justice Critique

INTRODUCTION

This is a Review of certain aspects of a major report on agroecology called “From Uniformity to Diversity: A Paradigm Shift from Industrial Agriculture to Diversified Agroecological Systems,” by IPES-Food’s, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.  It’s found here:  Executive Summary,  Full Report.

This is a critique based upon the alternative “Farm Justice” narrative and paradigm of the U.S. Family Farm Movement, as it’s been developed over the past 60 years, and as I and others have tried to update it for the 21st century. This paradigm as it has evolved in recent decades, emerged out of earlier experiences of U.S. agriculture going back another hundred years, and out of which the farm bill was formed.

Beyond that, in my judgement, it’s a paradigm rooted in the extensive experiences of rural people going back thousands of years. After 5,000 years of amazing success, agriculture became severely oppressed by the urban empires, (civilizations, “megamachines,” [Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine, 2 vols.) over another 5,000 years. For those farming within the reach of these urban empires, crises of distributive economic justice and related social injustices, have long been overwhelming. Agriculture was been the wealth of ancient empires, and this story has re-emerged in authoritarian, globally dominating ways in our time.

Not surprisingly, then, the ethics of agricultural people around the globe have long centered on distributive economic justice, which is the focus of my review here.

There is much that’s excellent in this report, in it’s emphasis on ecologically adequate methods of farming. It has great value in those aspects. Unfortunately, those strengths are tainted by misunderstandings of how things have gone so severely wrong in agriculture. In the views of the reports “expert” writers, the problems have emerged on farms that have been overly rewarded. Though little if any evidence is offered in defense of that view, it’s a concensus, so the authors, and many of their audiences, seem to agree.

NOTE ON AGROECOLOGY IN THE LEXICON

Some of us have been reflecting upon the concept of “agroecology,” ever since the word has surfaced with major force in discussions where we participate, for example, in Iowa at the time of the 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize. There ,a presentation was made on agroecology by members of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. One question was, how does it compare to “food soveriegnty.”

Narrative terms are important, and different sectors favor competing terms. Even the most basic of words, such as “food” (https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/food-its-misunderstood-misused-term ) and “farm” (https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/farm-term-problems-its-own ) can often be used in highly problematic ways.

I’m also reminded of the continuing debate between certified “organic,” “biodynamic” and “beyond organic.” Perhaps the worst case of this type is “rotational grazing,” which has had a long list of alternative names, often fiercely defended (i.e. from management intensive grazing to holistic resource management).

One reason for using “agroecology” seems to be that “agriculture” isn’t seen as a strong enough term. On the other hand, “agroecology” seems to be less political, (less about power,) than “food sovereignty,” for example, which, in turn, points less directly at ecological or environmental concerns. I suspect that academics prefer the term “agroecology, which lends itself to a focus on the technicalities of ecological farming systems. The problem with that, I argue, is that it leads to false conclusions about what has caused the problems in the first place, and what many of the effective solutions would then be.

SYNOPSIS

The problems I see in the report can be summarized as follows. Note that they’re about all anti-farmer, giving far too much away to the dominant agribusiness ideology.

[1.] It’s a huge mistake to think that we’re talking about a “food system.” We’re not. Were talking about a farming system combined with it’s input and output (including nonfood) sectors.

[2.] It’s a huge mistake to think that the problems are rooted in “industrial agriculture.” They’re rooted in the agribusiness input and output sectors, and in their exploitation of agriculture, including “industrial agriculture.” There are several major corollary myths related to this.

[3.] The fact that half of the hungry are farmers and another 30% are also part of the 80% of the hungry who are rural is not integrated into the thesis of the report about hunger. See also item [7.], below.

[4.] The evidence clearly shows that farmers, including “industrial farmers,” have been penalized, (net result,) and mostly run out of business. They weren’t “incentivized” into becoming more “industrial.” The claims here are not evidence based. They’re ideologically based.

[5.] Farmers subsidize everyone’s food, because our (US/global) agriculture is colonized by the agribusiness megamachine, which extracts “tribute” directly from farmers. That’s where any meaningful discussion of “cheap food” needs to start.

[6.] They’re not “agricultural lobbies” where “agriculture” wins. They’re anti-farmer, anti-agriculture, pro-agribusiness lobbies.

[7.] Coverage of the whole question of “export orientation” doesn’t ever really get at the huge political issues of farm justice & corporate exploitation. It’s treated as a technical (academic) issue. Ditto for the so-called “food price crisis,” (meaning too high prices,) where the hungry (the 80% rural food poverty that are dependent upon a farm economy for wealth creation,) are assumed to be hurt by paying farmers fairly for a change. It’s the reverse, 50 years of cheap prices, not 7 years of prices that are more fair for just 3 crops, (corn, soybeans and rice), that’s the cause.

[8.] In terms of the larger net results, research doesn’t “favor” farmers. Sure, you get greater yields, but farmers have usually been paid less for them (total amount). It’s the reverse. The mass of private research is subsidized (privately) by the ever cheaper prices, by the wealth taken directly from farmers, and by the destruction of our flexibility, our options to not buy the products, (as we’ve lost livestock and rotations).

[9.] Profitabilty for organic farms is a good sign, but the viability of organic farming is massively hindered by the other kinds of (ignored) problems I’ve been highlighting.

[10.] The really bad consequences from the invisibility (to these “experts,”) of the problems I’ve raised then leads to the risk of more bad consequences from their recommendations, starting in Recomendation 1. It’s a great idea to better focus costs and benefits on the public good, since such massive damage has occurred from penalizing agriculture, but since the report thinks it’s come from rewarding agriculture, it calls for further damage, such as cutting farm subsidies without doing anything about market management, (about fair prices, about eliminating the need for any subsidies). That would be devastating, (and it’s already happened in the 2014 Farm Bill, though almost no one knows it, as CBO projections show).

[11.] Point [11.], below, continues and expands upon the point in [10.].

[12.] On the question of a need to strenghten social movements, the bad consequences of the many problems I’ve raised again come to the fore. It’s exactly in the spreading of so much of the false (agribusiness) ideology (against the evidence) in the report, and throughout our various other sectors and their narratives, that we’ve been so severely divided and conquered. This can’t be fixed without fixing the myths I’ve identified (i.e. myths in the overall academic paradigm of agroecology?).

[13.] Here, in response to their Recommendation 6, I return to the issue of [8.], of the connection of farm markets as a whole, (farm prices,) to the funding of research agendas. As with other items, without fixing price, an “agroecological” research agenda is swimming against a tide that is much much stronger than the swimmer.

A REVIEW

The report is 96 pages, and it’s difficult to find the time to respond to reports of that length. What follows was first written on the basis of the Executive Summary, and then I did a number of content searches of relevant sections of the full report. The specifics that concern me are as follows.

[1.] First and generally, it’s not a “food system” (or “food only” system). That doesn’t exist and the major problems can’t be solved on that basis. Instead, the problems are made much worse if changes are attempted on a food only basis. This is seen especially in the problem of oversupply. It’s a really bad idea to emphasize food and debase nonfood, when we’re destroying the planet and starving people to death on the basis of oversupply. In particular, it’s abusive and unjust to bash farmers who grow something other than food. It divides and conquers our movement. Then we wonder why we’re losing. Should we call for the elimination of all jobs in society that aren’t sufficiently politically correct or high status, including those that the poorest among us have to do this work to survive? What then would we do with all of the unemployed workers. That’s exactly equivalent to the food-centric issue-gone-viral. It’s extremely unwise, and must be immediately and strongly opposed. (cf. https://zcomm.org/zblogs/national-farm-and-food-policy-response-to-bittman-et-al/ )

[2.] The focus of the report is primarily on “industrial farming,” not on the agribusiness complex that exploits “industrial farming. These farms are treated as if they’re huge, highly concentrated and rewarded thing, but certainly in the United States, in crop farming, that’s not true. Though plenty of very bad things have happened to farms, and farm size has increased a dramatically, with huge negative consequences, crop farms remain quite small relative to the incredible concentration of the agribuiness input, output CAFO complexes (or megamachines). You usually can’t show concentration in crop farming on the same chart with these other concentrations, as it’s too tiny to show up on the graph (i.e. the big 4 corn farms). Most formerly diversified farms have lost livestock to CAFOs, where more than half of ownership of livestock and poultry, (i.e. hogs & broilers,) involves just four corporations. The crop farming issue is not that at all huge and lucrative, at least relative to the other category that seems to be largely missing from the analysis of farming systems: the agribusines input and output complex.

On points like this the report specifically mentioned the cornbelt. I live here and the facts on the ground make it clear that there is nothing her remotely close to ownership of corn farming by just 4 corporations. What’s often missed, is that, in so massively looting our wealth from crop farming, (we’ve often been paid less per acre, even as yields for corn have grown to be 4 times greater,) and with the loss of value added livestock, farms have had to grow much larger just to stay the same economic size. This is hard to estimate, but in a number of scenarios I’ve run, the money you could make on a 160 acre diversified cornbelt farm in the 1940s might take a 600 acre farm today. Basically, when market prices (plus subsidies) are at these levels, the 600 acre farm is no bigger than the 160 acre farm. So most of the larger sizes are illusions. They exist much more in people’s imaginations, but than they do concretely, on the basis of the hard data, justly interpreted.

[2a.] To be honest, the industrial system has been created in part from the many advances that industrialism has brought in general, similar to indoor plumbing and health care, as seen in organic farming in the United States, which uses many of the benefits of industrialism. More to the point here, however, the industrial system of agriculture has been created primarily by penalizing the farmers who are doing it, (running most of them out of business,) not by rewarding them. There’s certainly no valid evidence that subsidies represent a net benefit to these farmers. The evidence clearly shows that we’ve been paid a lot less with subsidies (net result) than we were paid prior to subsidies, (even as these subsidies were radically reduced in the 2014 farm bill, should the cheap prices that are currently projected prevail). There are many problems with industrialism, but what we really live in is the mega-industrial age, where the input and output complexes are megamachines, each a “Manhattan Project. And it’s an authoritarian technology that takes tribute from the so called industrial farmers.

[2b.] While the data on the penalized farmers shows very clearly that they’ve had needs far greater than the benefits given, (as most have been run out of business,) the agribusiness buyers, (which are typically hundreds of times larger,) have had benefits many times greater, while not showing any needs for those benefits, but instead showing repeated record profits and returns on equity (http://www.nfu.ca/sites/www.nfu.ca/files/corporate_profits.pdf ).

[2c.] The myth of the gigantic size of “industrial agricuture” is strongly influenced by the farm subsidy myth, where the top 10% are imagined to be huge, while the bottom 80 persent are imagined to be “family-sized.” That’s gone viral, even though no valid evidence has ever been presented to support it. Those of us who are farmers living in farming regions know better. The evidence is all around us. We can look in the farm subsidy database, and we know these people and these farms. In my rough analysis the top 10% mark starts at roughly 200 acres for corn and soybeans, which is sub-full-time, while the bottom third is only about 2 acres (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/most-ewg-subsidy-recipients-are-too-tiny-to-be-farmers-by-brad-wilson/ ).

[3.] I don’t see how you can meaningfully discuss global “Hunger, food security and nutrition” without giving adequate attention to the fact that the “undernourished” are 80% rural, mostly farmers, and the fact that they’re grossly underpaid. While the full report (not the executive summary?) briefly mentions facts along these lines, these facts seem to have virtually no impact on the basic thesis. We need to “pay the world” and the 80% can feed themselves. The fact that this is politically caused seems to have been omitted from the report, which, I find, is common for agricultural academics, who seem to shy away from such issues. Overproduction has been a major cause of the poverty that causes hunger. What I see here is only mention of this production “reducing hunger,” not of it causing hunger. This is picked up again begining on page 7 under “‘feed the world’ narratives.” Here it says that “industrial agriculture continues to be seen as the solution,” which seems to imply that that’s who will be rewarded. It’s not mentioned that what that really means is that that’s who will be first penalized in these kinds of pro-output-complex solutions.

[4.] Yes, “path dependency” (p. 6 Exec. Sum.) is a huge problem, but it’s largely caused by penalizing farmers (net result), not by rewarding them. The mention only of “subsidies,” and not the much bigger value reductions from ever cheaper prices that have run most of these farmers out of business is severely invalid. The penalties of cheap prices from the output complex have led to the further penalty of loss of livestock to CAFOs, and farmers couldn’t afford to bring sons and daughters into the operation to do the labor anyway. This then leads to the further penalty of the loss of the most sustainable crop rotations, which rely on livestock feeds, (alfalfa, clover, grass). This then leads to the loss of options of what to raise, (resilience based on a diversity of crops and livestock,) and the loss of alternatives to chemical inputs from the input complex. This then leads to the loss of the infrastructure and infostructure for diversity, (sale barns, elevators that buy oats and grind feed, mainstream businesses that support farmer diversity). In sum, I don’t think there’s much mention of any penalties to “industrial agriculture,” as a cause of the trends that make industrialism worse.

[5.] It’s not a meaningful discussion of “cheap food” if it’s grounded in “consumer habits” and “expectations,” with no mention of how it’s caused politically, and how farmers subsidize everyone’s food, (net result, even with subsidies). To frame it as “clear signals” based upon “demand” factors, clearly suggests that extra opportunities have opened up for farmers to make money, thus causing the problem (of farmers being underpaid). Yes, read that sentence again. The argument is a contradiction, and surely tied to the subsidy myth, where everyone assumes that “industrial farmers” are doing well, (but without ever providing any valid evidence to support the view). Stewart Smith projected the farm share of the food dollar, (excluding both input and outout shares,) to be zero by 2020. That general trend is supported by a wide variety of major data sources (price levels, net farm income, net cash income, return on equity, return on assets, percent of parity).

[6.] To suggest that something called “Agricultural … lobbies retain a privileged position relative to other constituencies (e.g. environment, health,)” is to use a strange term-gone-viral, (or substitute “farm lobby”). The lobby they’re referring to is an agribusiness lobby. The idea that there’s an agricultural lobby lobbying for these changes really doesn’t much exist. These changes are not in the interests of “agriculture” proper. They’re in the interest of the agribusiness input, output, and CAFO complexes. Those representing authentic “agricultural” interests have no significant lobby at all, as the evidence clearly shows. To call agribusiness a “farm” or “agricultural” lobby is to radically misunderstand the long history and current status of farm and agribusiness politics. Maintaining that misunderstanding is in the interests of agribusiness, and is against the interests of agriculture proper. The report clearly suggests that the environmental and public health sectors are losers, while farmers are winners. That’s false. Farmers are losers, and the losses to the environment and to public health result from the losing of farmers, which results from the gains that farmers are forced to pay to the agribusiness output (including CAFO) complex, when then also leads to the gains of the input complex (i.e. farmers losing livestock and livestock pasture and hay ground, and therefore losing sustainable crop rotations,) which also occurs at the expense of farmers, (i.e. at the expense of flexibility, independence, and resilience).

If “agriculture” is so privileged in it’s “lobby,” then why have most of those who practice agriculture in the US been run out of business by cheap farm prices, (caused economically by the chronic failure of free markets for agriculture, and caused politically by our government since 1953, as market management programs were reduced and eliminated)? Why have we lost livestock (that we once had,) on most farms, and on the surviving farms that still have livestock, why have we lost ownership of most of our livestock? Why has each farm bill gotten worse and worse for those who specifically practice “agricuture.” And finally, why does the data on lobby and influence money show, for example, that just 20 corporations (in 2009) gave 60% of the $100 million that was spent, and none of them were farmer organizations, and none of them represented the interests of farmers, (as defined by the questions above)? They all opposed “agricultural” interests.

[7.] In the section on “export orientation,” p. 6, I don’t see any discussion of how giant exporters use exports to drive down internal prices in the U.S. and all around the world, pitting one country against another, even though there’s no need for the various farm products to be moved around. In other words, it’s a tool against farmers and farming countries. It’s framed instead (in the report) as a spread of “industrial agriculture” as if agriculture is a a beneficiary.

Related to this, a “food price crisis,” is mentioned, as well as “price volatility.” That’s supposed to mean that paying farmers fairly is a crisis for farmers and their regional economies (farmers make up about half of the “undernourished,” and rural people make up about 80%). Really, only 3 major farm prices went up, (corn, soybeans, and rice,) and they rose from the lowest in history (not mentioned in the report,) to somewhere close to the half way point for all time prices, but only briefly, over a 7 year period, (2007-2013). Corn and soybeans,for example, had 8 of the 9 lowest prices in history from 1997-2005, and other major crops were similar. To call being paid something closer to “fair trade” price levels a “crisis” is to not know much of anything about agriculture. To not know that the poverty that causes hunger for farmers (50% of the hungry) and other rural people (80% of the hungry) comes, in important ways, from decades of the dumping crisis is apparently to be come subservient to the dominant narratives of Cargill, ADM, Kelloggs, Tyson, Dean Foods, Kraft and Shuanghui International. Where, though, is there any mention in the report of the much bigger chronic (50 year) problem, chronic, stable very low farm prices. Export dumping has happened almost every year for more than 40 years for wheat, cotton, and small feedgrains, and corn, soybeans rice, sugar and dairy are not far behind, and all are projected to be low through 2026? This is an absurd misunderstanding of these very crucial issues, (and one widely shared, virally!).

It needs to be doubly emphasized that the whole idea of a “food price crisis,” which is accepted in the report, (and apparently also in it’s sources,) is a major false narrative that strongly complements “feed the world.” For agribusiness to pay farmers the more fair prices of 2007-2013 means, in their view, that the sky is falling (on their authoritarian domination of farmers). The report primarily supports this false agribusiness narrative, against the goals of agroecology. The real crisis is the ever cheaper prices paid to farmers (half of the global hungry, who are keys to global rural economies, where 80% of the “undernourished” live). This is the cause of the rural poverty behind most hunger. A few years of farm prices that are more fair would have been no big deal if global farmers had been paid fairly over the previous 55 years.

It should also be noted that exports have been especially important to the growth of organic farming in the United States, for example across the cornbelt and wheat belt, for example, exports to Japan. Without exports demand would have been much lower, premium prices would have been much lower, and the industry would surely have grown at a much slower rate, and would have received much less media and other attention. Much less of an infrastructure would have been developed. Surely this illustrates how the simplified, generalized discussion of exports in the report is inadequate. It’s based on too little connection with the realities of organic farming in the U.S. throughout it’s history.

[8.] Research comes up in a couple of places, as if that’s designed to favor conventional farmers who grow crop commodities. I think it would be more accurate to say that the research creates dilemmas for these farmers, where they lose out by moving in that direction in the long term, even as there are other (short and long term) penalties for not moving in those directions. For example, cheap prices penalize crop rotations and make farmers older, so if you’re old and using pesticides anyway, why not use lower labor GMO methods, even though it’s a more concentrated input complex. On page 7 it states: “Increasingly privatized agricultural R&D programmes remain focused on the handful of crop commodities for which there is a large enough market to secure significant returns.” It’s not mentioned that these are the crops where farmers are paid the least, even with added subsidies (i.e. compared to a list of major fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, as measured by percent of parity). It’s also not mentioned that the privatization of research is for crops where the market prices have been drastically lowered by Congress to massively subsidize the output complex against farmers, (thus HFCS & transfats). At the same time, in losing livestock, pastures and hay, (cheap feed subsidizing CAFOs,) there’s more dependency upon purchased inputs per acre, and more acres on which to put the inputs, thus fostering that kind of R & D as well. So this reference, “secure’s significant returns,” is not a return for “industrial agriculture” itself. It’s a return for those exploiting “industrial agriculture.” The same agribusiness corporations doing the research also lobby collectively and successfully for paying “industrial agriculture” as little as possible, and their investments on research are dependent upon further exploitation along these same lines. So that’s not really “for” the farming part of “the handful of crops.” It’s against the crops (at the farm level,) but for them at the factory level. This is Stewart Smith’s argument that the “farming” portion of the money has been taken away from farms and farmers and given to giant corporations, who do more and more of the “farming” in the factories, and then sell it back as a labor saving technology, (for which the factories, not the farms, get the added value).

[9.] It’s good to see the data on the profitability for organic farming related to conventional, but I’ve explained a wide variety of other factors that can work against those results. These include cheap feeds for CAFOs to compete with organic meat and milk, cheap prices to compete with any local or organic food, the increasing use of farmland for tax loss farming which raises land costs, cheap prices for tasty junk food ingredients, and the ways that the various penalties have produced a farming generation that is very old, and which is unlikely to switch to organic. Also relevant is the destruction of the entire infrastructure and infostructure for diversity, which has been happening massively across vast reasons, as a result of cheap prices, at the same time as an alternative infrastructure for organic has been growing, and being taken over by giant corporations. Since all of the injustice of all of these devastations has been the major focus of activism by conventional farmers in the US over the past 60 years, (i.e. a majority have favored fair Price Floors instead of subsidies,) then it’s a tremendous disservice and a massive failure of strategy to foster the division between the two kinds of “industrial” farmers, organic and conventional, as is fostered by the oversights of this report. The newer, younger Sustainable Family Farm Movement split off from the Family Farm Justice Movement during the 1990s over the issues of justice, and that was a mistake. Out of that, the broader Sustainable Agriculture Movement and then the Food Movement of the 21st century have never supported the kinds of Farm Justice concerns that I’ve identified here. They’ve all supported cheap CAFO feeds, junk food ingredents, and below cost commodity exports (dumping) in the Farm Bill, although unknowingly, at least for the urban advocates. Now, two decades later, as the big “megamachine” corporations have moved into organic, and the Food Movement has so often misunderstood livestock issues, and as the larger infrastructure continues to be destroyed, it’s clear that the time has come to say “enough already,” and to refuse to continue to be divided and conquered.

RECOMMENDATIONS

All of this has huge implications for the recommendations.

[10.] “Recommendation 1: Develop new indicators for sustainable food systems.” The general idea is great, bring out the costs of the bad things, and provide rewards for the good things. Unfortunately, since so much of the underlying theory in the report is wrong, as explained above, a lot can go wrong here as well. That is, since many of the bad costs come from penalizing farmers in the first place, then penalizing them further may not be the best solution! This recommendation refers to “food” systems, but these things cannot be fixed on a “food only” approach. That’s likely to make things worse. (See more on these points below.) See my proposal in #11.

[11.] “Recommendation 2: Shift public support towards diversified agroecological production systems.” Yes, but that involves paying conventional farmers more, not less, and the pay needs to be shifted away from the agribusiness input and output complexes. Farmers must be paid fairly, as greater demands are also made to pay for the hidden costs. In particular, incentives are needed to bring livestock out of CAFOs and back onto the land. Unfortunately, “What is already happening” includes green subsidies but not fair prices, so it means that CAFOs, junk food makers and export dumpers continue to have their full benefits from cheap prices, hurting all farmers, and continuing to destroy sustainable crop rotations and the infrastructure for diversity. So that’s all directly against my recommendation of shifting benefits away from these entities. In “What needs to change” this mistake is further fostered by also reducing subsidies to conventional farmers, thus setting the stage for a massive farm crisis and further concentration, loss of crop rotations, destruction of infrastructure, and spreading all of this globally, including global food poverty. Here in the United States these problems have been fostered for some time, leading to richer people owning the land, (since you can’t make money farming it, and using farm losses to write off their ever greater off-farm income (the massive increase in tax loss farming in recent years). So again, this section assumes that farmers have been beneficiaries, and it ignores the much bigger factor of agribusiness input and output complexes.

Issues of “access to land” and “young people” who “enter agriculture and adopt agroecological farming,” are huge, but can’t be adequately addressed if nothing is done about cheap prices and tax loss farming. It’s naive and abusive to bring in new young people, when so many of the young people with years of experience in diversified farming were not able to make it into their own family-owned operations. (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/farm-justice-for-beginning-farmers/ ) So it’s incredibly naive to misunderstand these historical realities.

PROPOSAL: Here’s the place to emphasize the restoration of the real farm bill, (market management: Price Floors & Ceilings plus supply management,) on a global basis, and in new, more sustainable ways, (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/brad-wilsons-farm-bill-proposal/ ) as a way to cover the full costs, including the hidden costs, while removing the massive incentives from the agribusiness input and output megamachines. We must fully shift the massive (nongovernmental, nonspending, nonsubsidy) benefits away from the real (but hidden to these experts,) beneficiaries, agribusiness, not agriculture. Farmers, including “industrial agriculture, are the ones who have been paying these benefits to agribusiness, and through them, to consumers, as cheap food. That’s what’s destroying the farm and food/nonfood system. That’s what’s been the biggest barrier to agroecology.

This is very different politically from competing over a zero-sum spending pie, as the benefits come from, (not to,) agribusiness, (and not from government taxes and spending). Market management can be used to pay farmers fairly and bring livestock back to the land, while ending subsidies. Mere subsidies reforms cannot do that, and tend to be much much smaller in impact, and tend to divide and conquer the sectors that need to be united for victory. The timing of implementation of changes of this magnitude, (a magnitude which we haven’t seen since the 1930s-40s, is very important. It takes time to adjust.

Of course, market management can’t at all be done on a “food only” basis.

[12.] “Recommendation 5: Strengthen movements that unify diverse constituencies around agroecology.” Everything I’ve written is relevant to this category. What I’ve argued is that we’ve generally approached this far too narrowly, and we’ve done the same thing in this specific report. By not knowing what the data really shows, (that we’ve penalized “industrial agriculture” far more than we’ve rewarded it, in that we’ve run most conventional farmers out of business). The report has thus defined most U.S. farmers as “industrial agriculture,” (while ignoring that the other, favored farmers also are very industrial,) and written them out of the movement. The particular concerns I’ve raised all were made possible, surely, from the exclusion of the knowledge base and paradigm U.S. farmers, who are represented by the Family “Farm Justice” Movement stakeholder group, (which supports paying them fairly, keeping them in business, and keeping livestock on their farms). In the U.S. this Movement alone has decades of experience in fighting agribusiness megamachines head to head. These days, these are the only stakeholders who can correct the kinds of misunderstandings that I’ve exposed here. It’s a group whose narrative has been honed over many decades, (and continues to need updating).

Globally, the US is the dominant agricultural exporter, the only country that has been able to manage global supply and set adequate global prices. Related specifically to that, these US farm justice advocates have had a “unique” (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/unique-us-role-in-fixing-the-ldc-food-poverty-crisis/ ) contribution to make, beyond that which African farmers and European farmers, for example, could make, (though African [https://zcomm.org/zblogs/wto-africa-group-with-nffc-not-ewg-by-brad-wilson/ ] and European [https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/impact-of-gatt-on-world-hunger-by-mark-ritchie/ ] leaders have also supported these kinds of changes, as has the global farmer organization La Via Campesina [https://zcomm.org/zblogs/via-campesina-with-nffc-support-for-fair-farm-prices-by-brad-wilson/ ]).

My recommendations here represent a very different paradigm, both politically and as movement strategy. It’s one which can radically expand the movement and the political support which it can generate, even as it shrinks the opposition. At root, that’s because it involves someone finally supporting farmers, and bringing farmers’ narratives of justice into the movement. That then will further greatly strenghten Recommendation 5. Short of making the U.S. Farm Justice sector visible, (i.e. to bring the kinds of macro concerns I’ve raised here into the debate,) Recommendation 5 looks like a bit like spin.

[13.] “ Recommendation 6: Mainstream agroecology and holistic food systems approaches into education and research agendas.” Again, as in #8 above, to adequately raise the price that agribusiness must pay, (for example, firmly connectd to higher requirments for farmers, to prevent hidden costs,) to thus bring livestock back to farms, with much greater economic viability for sustainable crop rotations, would work strongly against the massive amount of private sector research which has been based on massive “implicit” or free market subsidies taken directly from farmers and given to agribusiness exploiters. At the same time, fixing the major farm injustices also opens up large arenas for new private sector research supportive of diversity and sustainability. But yes, much help is needed, as in the recommendation.

CONCLUSION

Again, there are many many excellent things in the report, and I have hardly mentioned them at all. Unfortunately, these excellent things are significantly tainted by being set into a context that’s false over all, with regard to farm justice. The primary shortcomings come from not knowing the point of view of farmers themselves, especially the farmers who have been fighting against these trends over the generations, and especially in the United States over the past 60 years, with very little help from urban based NGOs or from academics. Farmers, farms, and US agriculture as a whole, including “industrial agriculture,” are the victims, not the beneficiaries of the major changes that have happened in agriculture, as a result of agribusiness domination. Until the false paradigm in which farmers are seen as winners and net beneficiaries is eradicated, little progress can be made on these issues, and the stage is set for well meaning “experts” to support further devastations of the overall farm and food-nonfood system.

DATA

I plan to add a slide show of data charts to supplement this report. When that’s done, I’ll edit this and add it as a direct link. (General link: Brad Wilson at SlideShare: http://www.slideshare.net/bradwilson581525/presentations )

Flawed Genius: Milestones of a Food Movement Since 2000

INTRODUCTION

Joe Fassler of The New Food Economy has recently asked, on the COMFOOD list, “What are the most important food milestones since 2000?” As people were answering, I wrote this response.  This is a general interpretation of the Food Movement “since 2000,” looking at the good and the bad.

It’s a great question, one that’s somewhat open, judging from the variety of responses. Initially the answers didn’t quite get to the big picture, but over time it generated quite a bit of participation, and stronger answers. Obviously there are significant victories that are important to subgroups. Overall, however, the “Food Movement” is an awesome phenomenom. There have certainly been a number of food books and films, and food organizations, working on quite a wide variety of tasks.

The date, “since 2000, is important. While there have been certain kinds of “food” activists since the 1960s, and other kinds of food activities going far back into history, it’s really since 2000 that the “Food Movement” has emerged as a tour de force. While some have questioned it in comparison to standard social “movements,” whatever it is, it’s hugely important.

Anna Lappé checked in to mention the timeline at the Small Planet Institute. It has a larger time frame and is more important in some ways, in teaching some of the history behind what’s happened since 2000. In other ways, however, the focus on the time “since 2000” is more important. It’s since 2000 that this thing has really taken off.

I believe that my analysis HERE contains MORE POWERFUL POSITIVES than what I saw submitted online, or what the final product has been. On the other hand, I’ve probably largely failed to turn these positives into proper “milestones.”

On the other hand, the points I make in the “bad milestones” section, the NEGATIVES are also “more powerful,” and very possibly they’re even more powerful than the “miracles” I identify in my “positive milestones” section.

I have thought that Joe Fassler should take heed of Emilianne Slaydon’s innovation, “Good Milestones,” “Bad Milestones,” as Elizabeth Henderson did. I believe that there are few other lists of “milestones” where considering the “bad” side is as radically important as it is here, as I’ll illustrate below. The final product from Joe & The New Food Economy is now out, (here, http://newfoodeconomy.com/new-food-economy-grows/ ), and he did not include any problems in the Movement, only in the food and farm system.

I noticed that Joe Fassler didn’t use the word “Movement” in his question and the explanation of it. He’s talking about “food” “since 2000,” without mentioning a “Food Movement” “since 2000.” (There’s at least one blog, [but maybe only one,] at The New Food Economy that addresses Food Movement issues, about an article critical of the Movement.) Perhaps Joe has something very different in mind than Movement issues, but that’s what I discuss below.

My response has grown longer than I expected, surpassing 4,000 words. I’ll post this online and write a shorter piece for the list. Short of that, JUST SKIM THE WORDS IN CAPS TO GET THE GIST OF THIS. Basically I discuss “GOOD MILESTONES” and “BAD MILESTONES.”

GOOD MILESTONES

[1.] I guess one answer to Joe’s literal question, (about “food” sans “movement,”) is the rise of the FOOD MOVEMENT itself. Certainly from a farm-side point of view, the rise of the huge Food Movement is an awesome event, really a miraculous “POPULIST MOMENT” in (Farm/Food) Movement history. Finally, we could win on the biggest (“FARM JUSTICE”) issues, “farm” and “food” together. (We “could,” under certain conditions, but see the “bad milestones,” below.) Farmers thought that winning was possible in past decades by their efforts alone, but they were wrong, (and the Food Movement today seems to have a similar naivete.) Without a significant urban-side Food Movement, farmers lost on the big justice issues, and in the end our farm-side Movement was divided (with the Sustainable Family Farm Movement splitting off from the Family Farm Justice Movement in the 1990s,) and then, in important ways, co-opted (SFFM) or conquered (FFJM). We were largely crushed. So the Food Movement could make all the difference in the world. Specifically the Food Movement “since 2000” very likely made winning on the big farm-side justice issues (Farm Justice) possible, for the first time since prior to 1953! (Again, see qualifications on this in part 2.)

[2.] Farmers are a very small segment of society, and “sustainable” and organic farmers are a very small segment of that. In short, the SUSTAINABLE FAMILY FARM MOVEMENT is tiny! On the other hand, this tiny sector has GROWN far BEYOND THE FARM, and has strongly INFORMED the new FOOD MOVEMENT. This is an awesome achievement and a model for anyone doing movement work of any kind. I believe that it was achieved on the basis of EXCEPTIONAL VALUES, formulated into a powerful post-mega-industrial NARRATIVE, followed by significant funding from foundations, and then sophisticated strategies.

[3.] For decades (Farm Justice Movement) farmers have warned about the various “CHEAP FOOD” (cheap farm price) problems, and called for urban food-side support. (See: the NFO Reporter from the 1960s & from 1985 this huge town meeting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2UY2jXvYfM&index=6&list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767). That the Food Movement has made cheap food “CHEAP CORN,” and the related HIDDEN COSTS such a priority in it’s rhetoric is the core of the miracle introduced in [1.] above.

[4.] There is much that’s great in the cheap-food/SUBSIDY-REFORM PARADIGM, (in spite of my relentless criticizism of it’s radical flaws, described below). It’s a quite comprehensive paradigm that integrates a wide range of issues. It clearly goes a long way toward being a “successful social movement,” as defined by Movement theorist Bill Moyer in the Movement Action Plan, (http://historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/moyermap.html ) farther in results with the “public” than the millions of hard core farmer activists of the past, in relentless decades of massive work. The paradigm shows the interconnectedness of a variety of major problems, such as cheap junk food ingredients, cheap CAFO feeds, and export dumping. This has been taught to the Food Movement quite successfully, and has made it’s way, MASSIVELY, INTO MAINSTREAM MEDIA. Examples include Michael Pollan and the Environmental Working Group, showing up all across mainstream media. They and others, as keynotes and panel moderators. Naysayers are repeatedly suggesting to me that the urban public will never come to understant the interconnected results of “cheap food” etc. policy, but I repeatedly point out to them that it’s already been done by the Food Movement.

For Moyer, “PUBLIC AWARENESS OF THE PROBLEM” is the first of three general phases of winning. (see chart at top of moyermap link, just above) This awareness has clearly gone viral. The second phase, “PUBLIC OPPOSITION TO POWERHOLDER POLICIES,” is also tremendously important and a huge (if very partial) success. The major problematic policies are in the farm bill, in the Commodity Title, (and now in related aspects of the Crop Insurance Title as well). That’s made very clear in the subsidy-reform paradigm. (See more in section two, below.)

[5.] LOCAL FOOD and related aspects of building an ALTERNATIVE farm/FOOD SYSTEM, including URBAN AGRICULTURE, certainly represent awesome new developments, given the incredible scale and inner connectivity of this work in the 21st century. I’ve identified Farm Bill reform, (i.e. discussed above,) as a “Jubilee Strategy” of reforming the dominant system. In contrast, this local, alternative farm and food work is an “EXODUS STRATEGY” of WITHDRAWING from the dominant system. Social philosophers, (i.e. Lewis Mumford, The Pentagon of Power [1970], The Conduct of Life [1951], The Condition of Man, [1944]) see withdrawal as very significant. It’s sometimes, (perhaps frequently,) been missed that this too is very radical, in that it’s a strategy that can be implemented when you can’t win against the dominant narrative and system, and the far reaching progress on it has been incredible, with much more surely coming, (though it couldn’t become a full solution, as we produce far more than can be consumed locally or in the U.S.).

[6.] One way of summarizing or interpreting much of what we’ve seen “since 2000 is that there’s been a MASSIVE OUTPOURING OF CREATIVITY, a mobilization and inner connectivity of creative resources, “Food Movement” resources. I think this has been absolutely incredible, an outpouring of peak creativity, a “peak experience.” One word for it would surely be “ecstatic,” in the classic meaning of that term. Ecstasy is the product of creativity, and visa versa. The greater the one, the greater the other.

[7] Finally, I very tentatively offer a personal example, my own (“BRAD WILSON’S”) work on Food Movement issues. A significant amount of material is now available, though it certainly CAN’T BE CALLED A MILESTONE unless it’s utilized. I’ve had ups and downs, fits and starts, as La Vida Locavore went off line, and zspace changed all of my blog addresses, and eliminated a dozen of my slide shows. At some point I surpassed 100 BLOGS on Food Movement issues, (with links to the best online material,) and my ONLINE COMMENTS are in the thousands. I’ve provided information on a large number of online and offline resources. What’s significant about this is that it COULD FIX the very “bad milestones” discussed below, (it and it’s connection to the key resources produced by others). I’ve used online links of this kind thousands of times, for both specific purposes and general education. Some have used them, and benefited significantly. Rory Smith’s recent article at Truthout said, essentially, that Michael Polland and Mark Bittman are wrong, and that I’m correct, and he’s writing a follow up piece that will focus more exclusively on the issues I’ve raised. The mention of Pollan, Bittman and me was a section strongly influenced by my thesis, under the heading “Divided and Conquered.” (http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35915-the-future-of-the-food-justice-movement) (Cf. chapter one of Wenonah Hauter’s Foodopoly, for which, she says, I gave her the idea.) So I have at least convinced Rory Smith to listen to this and ask questions, and to then conclude that Pollan and Bittman (& Environmental Working Group, & etc. etc. etc.,) have no valid evidence behind their theories of farm subsidies and policy reforms, and then of many related issues, including especially their narratives about farm/food politics and it’s history. A key piece of context for this is that I definitely see it (the specific Food Movement issues that I work on,) as the biggest “food milestone since 2000,” albeit a “bad milestone.” It’s an enormous global economic issue affecting half the world, (the rural half,) in a variety of ways related to the most vital issues of food and farming, survival and culture, and yet it’s one largely centered here in the United States, (in the Farm Bill and related policies and programs).

There’s also a parallel FARM-SIDE to this, my work to try to get the Family Farm Movement to perceive the radical significance of the Food Movement “since 2000” as the only possible key to a successful Farm Justice strategy! It’s possible that some advancement is occurring there as well, but it’s too soon to tell. (More on that below.) The section on “BAD MILESTONES,” below, further supports this hypothesis that I might have been creating a “Food Milestone” of some kind “since 2000.” Or maybe not, (or not yet). In any case, this must happen or the Food Movement will radically fail on the big farm bill issues.

Conclusion of Good Milestones. In each of these ways, I, (a vigorous critic of certain aspects of the Food Movement,) would rebut most of the Food Movement’s (other) critics. I find generally that they’re too weak at understanding and affirming the incredible positives of that which they criticize. When something is as successful as the Food Movement has been, it tends to pick up a number of the flaws of mass society, and is then criticized for that. Prior to the criticism, however, is the success that has surpassed expectations.

Perhaps I’ve still left open the question of specific (positive) “milestones.” What specific milestones best illustrate the developments I’ve described? I think that’s what the people at The New Food Economy really want. My question in return, therefore, is what I said at the top, my hope for better answers that capture these incredible positives. While stronger examples have been coming forth at COMFOOD, as I write, the specific “milestones” of the final product didn’t seem to get at the mega-positives very well.

BAD MILESTONES

Tragically, I find an accompanying set of sometimes incredibly “bad milestones” to go along with the awesomely “good milestones” identified above, (thus my title, “Flawed Genius”).

[1.] The chance for achieving a true “POPULIST MOMENT,” TWICE in the 2008 and 2014 Farm bills WAS LOST, as the Food Movement didn’t understand the issues, (called for mere “subsidy reforms” that maintain the cheapest of cheap corn/food/cotton, etc.,) and it looks certain that it will be lost a THIRD time, again in 2018. (See more explanation of this, below.)

[2.] In terms of the model of “success” from Bill Moyer, (linked above,) the Food Movement issues of “cheap food,” “cheap corn,” and “subsidy reforms,” as presently understood, CAN NEVER BE WON in terms of “PUBLIC OPPOSITION TO POWERHOLDER POLICIES,” in that, the Food Movement is advocating on the WRONG SIDE of them. So while the key general Farm Bill location has been known, (i.e. in the Commodity Title!) the model of subsidy reforms, (what specifically to fix in the Commodity Title,) is a FALSE one. The policy problem is NOT the PRESENCE of SUBSIDIES, as is believed by #FoodLeaders, but rather is the ABSENCE of PRICE FLOOR policies and programs.

This then has led to the Food Movement offering a FALSE “MOVEMENT ALTERNATIVE” (again, see the Moyer/moyermap link, above,) for the Farm Bill. The need is for restoration of (nonspending, nonsubsidy,) market management, not re-direction of spending within the current bad farm bill paradigm (where market management isn’t even seen as an option). In calling for mere subsidy reforms, (i.e. no Price Floors,) for example in Anna Lappé, Dan Imphoff, Kari Hamerschlag’s sign-on (here: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/06/05-6 ), the a long list of Movement leaders (unknowingly) called for the cheapest of cheap junk food ingredients and CAFO feeds, plus maximum export dumping. This third (Moyer) phase of success can never be achieved until the proposals that support the agribusiness exploiters against farmers are replaced with the correct proposals, (such as the Food from Family Farms Act of the National Family Farm Coaltion, [http://nffc.net/Learn/Fact%20Sheets/FFFA2007.pdf ] or the Market Driven Inventory System of the National Farmers Union [https://zcomm.org/zblogs/primer-farm-justice-proposals-for-the-2012-farm-bill-by-brad-wilson/ ]). Unfortunately, these continue to be rarely cited when these issues are discussed, (in books, in academic reports, in films, in short videos, at web sites, and surely in food courses, judging from what I’ve seen). The ultimately false paradigm “subsidy reform,” (in spite of the positives in it, described above,) continues to dominate, thus fostering the downward spiral.

[3.] I see this core policy issue as basically NOT accurately KNOWING “WHAT” a FARM BILL IS, (https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/whats-farm-bill ), and therefore what needs changing. We’ve been “Divided and Conquered,” (scroll down to that heading here: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35915-the-future-of-the-food-justice-movement ) by the SUBSIDY MYTH (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/the-farm-subsidy-myth-scientifically-invalid-subverting-food-day/ ), as the evidence clearly shows (cf. “four proofs:” https://zcomm.org/zblogs/michael-pollan-rebuttal-four-proofs-against-pollans-corn-subsidy-argument-by-brad-wilson/ ). Technically, then, in stark contrast to the Movement’s rhetoric, values and goals, it is (unknowingly) supporting the CHEAPEST OF CHEAP FOOD, the CHEAPEST CORN, etc. for industrial agribusiness.

[3b.] We see this in the strange MISUNDERSTANDINGs of CHEAP SUGAR POLICY, where #FoodLeaders seemed not to know what it was all about as it was being discussed, on twitter, for example, during the debate on the 2014 Farm Bill (https://twitter.com/FarmJustice/status/337642747991293952 ) (https://twitter.com/FarmJustice/status/337591224540209154 ). It’s as if anything farmers get is bad, unjust, so it must be opposed, even if it would raise the sugar prices that junk food makers pay. So, yea, cheap sugar, (or cheap corn,) is bad Farm Bill policy. But what about the Farm Bill paying sugar (or corn) farmers more! That too must be bad, right? WRONG. We’ve seen this in CSPI’s Food Day materials, in a report from US PIRG, and at The Chisel (about which I’m currently writing an extensive blog). They’ve supported cheap sugar, even though it so obviously goes against their values and intentions. Marion Nestle has also seemed ambivalent on this, which may be part of why “the farm bill” sort of seemed to drive her “insane.” The paradigm didn’t explain how to perceive this. It had no place in the mental map for figuring out why it’s good to pay corn and sugarbeet farmers more money, (though the full answer to this goes beyond the scope of this paper, but see my new blog on Agroecology, where I examine it in detail).

[4.] Out of this, the overall PARADIGM, while integrating some very important things, also LEFT OUT some other KEY INGREDIENTS, such as the relation of CHEAP PRICES to SUSTAINABILITY, and (prior to that,) the role of LIVESTOCK in sustainability and related issues. (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/farm-bill-economics-think-ecology-by-brad-wilson/ ) While connecting issues like cheap junk food ingredients, cheap CAFO feeds and export dumping, the paradigm didn’t see how cheap farm prices, (the absence of Price Floor programs,) has devastated sustainability by radically reducing key livestock feed crops on most farms, especially grass, alfalfa and clover (pastures and hay). The economic viability of these crops is a huge factor for achieving our most sustainable crop rotations. Lacking the economics of these livestock systems, the economics for sustainability is also lacking.

[5.] These misunderstandings then place the BLAME on farmer VICTIMS RATHER THAN on agribusiness EXPLOITERS, at least where it counts, in technicalities of major policy advocacy. That dynamics has surely then led to a number of other myths that are rooted in PREJUDICES AGAINST FARMERS in general, and against the farmer parts of the farm bill. FARM POLITICS and the farm lobby are not understood, for example. The political history of the issues, in places like Iowa, is radically misunderstood, as it’s said that we’ve been “supported” too much, rather than massively exploited by agribusiness.

The relationship between farmer issues and race/women’s/labor and other issues are usually misunderstood by the new urban side policy advocates for exactly these reasons (see my forthcoming blog on race/farm-bill issues). In misunderstanding subsidies, they all tend to misunderstand the big issues of economic injustice, for example in relation to the history of Movement advocacy by “white male” (and female) farmers, and by black farmers.

Now we even see that the Environmental Working Group is (unknowingly) imitating Earl Butz, in denying the possibility of a new “farm crisis,” (http://www.ewg.org/research/farm-crisis-myth ). (My responses to EWG’s claims, [a data slide show, a blog, and maybe a video,] is also forthcoming.) From a farmers point of view, and given the values of EWG, which we mostly share, this is an absurd and seemingly abusive phenomenon. For someone long working on questions of Food Movement narratives “since 2000,” however, it’s easily understandable and deserves a thoughtful response.

[5b.] Note: I’ve also argued that omissions of the farm-side is a flaw with the timeline of the Small Planet Institute, of Anna Lappé et al. https://zcomm.org/zblogs/flawed-food-history-farm-justice-missing-from-timeline-by-brad-wilson/ I find the same with the Good Food Timeline at Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems.(http://foodsystems.msu.edu/resources/local-food-movement-setting-the-stage ) It includes repeated mentions of wage issues (minimum wage, migrant farm laborers, food chain workers,) information about farmers markets as far back as 1970, the cheapness of food to consumers, and even events in the Civil Rights Movement and related minority issues, farm workers movement issues, the start of Community Supported Agriculture, Walmart supermarkets, farm to consumer and farm to school events, etc.. At the same time, there’s nothing on the big farm-side issues throughout this time, including the massive economic injustices (agribusiness benefits,) and the massive fight against them, (a series of major landmarks,) and nothing on the long history of major social injustices and social traumas against farmers generally, (And that would now include the social injustices from the Food Movement itself, as in EWG’s denial of the farm crisis, based surely upon a serious lack of contact with the Farm Justice (Family Farm) Movement. In these ways, these resources foster a mass of farm side illiteracy through the invisibility of our history, our politics, and our issues. (And are there any academic articles on the invisibility of farm-side injustices, [i.e. similar to http://www.agdevjournal.com/volume-6-issue-2/623-making-visible.html ]).

[6.] Another bad milestone may be related to, Joe’s uses of the word “FOOD” (food economy, food systems, food culture, food milestones), WITHOUT any mention of “FARM.” This food centric approach is surely tied to the subsidy myth (above) of blaming the victims, and of not knowing that that’s what’s happening. When did the bias against farmers growing nonfood take hold? With the term “food,” you don’t need so much to include those grumpy “farm justice” farmers on the team. On this, see my new post at Lexicon of Food, (“Food” https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/food-its-misunderstood-misused-term ), as well as my older posts on the topic, (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/don-t-grow-clover-hay-oats-corn-de-bunking-a-farmer-bashing-myth-by-brad-wilson/ ) (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/are-farmers-commodified-excess-resources-to-food-progressives/ ) including this one in relation to the “National Food Policy” (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/04/1349377/-National-Farm-AND-Food-Policy-Response-to-Bittman-et-al ).

[6b.] Strangely, while one submission to Joe Fassler refers to “know your farmer,” and that is a well known and important theme, it’s exactly the NOT KNOWING your (FARM JUSTICE) FARMERS, (the Movement that has done the major farm bill work on issues like cheap food, antitrust, agribusiness welfare from farmers, and the loss of farmers,) that has been at the core of these “bad milestones,” as “chicken” and as “egg.” These two sides, surely, are closely related. In believing that the Movement is great at “knowing farmers,” the Food Movement seems to think it’s not necessary to listen to critics like me, who have decades of experience on the biggest farm policy issues, deep knowledge of this missing farm-side history, and general knowledge and experience of general things “farm” (and the meaning of “farm” in the lexicon: https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/farm-term-problems-its-own ).

[7.] There are, then, serious escalating anomalies in the “food” paradigm, (Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,) even as so many #FoodLeaders are experiencing the ecstasy of PEAK CREATIVITY. Careers are being radically advanced out of all of this (positive milestones!). These are HEADY TIMES, opening up vast opportunities for a significant number of key leaders, who give repeated presentations at conferences, star in films, play prominent roles in books, or write them, etc. Imagine being a Michael Pollan, who surely had nothing on this magnitude prior to the Food Movement. Suddenly he’s featured everywhere, even on Oprah, and given thousands of words in the New York Times, repeatedly. One project is scarcely finished when many other fascinating new and different opportunities open up. HOW DOES ONE LOOK BACKWARD AT WHAT WAS RADICALLY WRONG with Food Inc., or King Corn, A Place at the Table, or a long list of food books, when you’re so needed just up ahead, in a fascinating new innovative challenge, where the money is waiting for you. Why listen to the isolated critics when the affirmations are so positive, so huge and so ongoing? And so lucrative! Sure, if you had time, . . . but looking ahead, there’s so much just there, within easy reach, further advancements . . . .

[8.] This can be understood as a FAILURE OF “developmental RADICALISM,” as defined by Charles Hampden-Turner (in Radical Man: The Process of Psycho-Social Developoment, 1971, cf. his doctoral dissertation at Harvard, Towards a Humanistic Psychology). Developmental radicals are able to “perceive” the painful anomalies. Though they strongly “invest” their “identities” and competence,” “authentically” and “intensely,” and achieve “self confirmation,” and “self transcendence,” they’re first able to “suspend” their prior paradigms and “risk” being wrong. They “bridge the distance” to those who are different, who’s views are often left out, (such as grumpy farmers who have way more experience with the issues and the opponents). They engage, if necessary, in a “stormy dialectic” in order to achieve “synergy,” and this is all then incorporated into their more complex “mental maps,” for improved performance around the cycle next time, (with improved “perception” of the painful anomalies, etc.) Perhaps there’s a milestone that symbolizes the failure of the Food Movement to be developmentally radical in it’s relationship with the Farm Justice (Family Farm) Movement of history. Perhaps it’s the blocking of grumpy farmers by Civil Eats, (as Civil Eats has continued to unknowingly put out a string of articles fostering cheap corn, cheap food).

[9.] Perhaps, following the lead of Andrew Kang Bartlett (to Joe Fassler), I should have mentioned the work on FOOD SOVEREIGNTY and the “FOOD PRICE CRISIS” as a “Good Milestone.” Certainly the presence of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance is significant. It has a closer relationship with Farm Justice farmers, and a better understanding of the Farm Bill. All too often, however, it hasn’t really understood or advocated for a return to a “Food Sovereignty” Farm Bill (like we had, 1942-1952, and as supporte by La Via Campesina [https://zcomm.org/zblogs/via-campesina-with-nffc-support-for-fair-farm-prices-by-brad-wilson/ ]).

[10.] It’s surely too early to know if my own [BRAD WILSON] contribution really means anything for the Movement, as it seems that I haven’t yet stimulated much of any other writing or citing, or even discussing, nor have I really been invited to speak. There seems to be a continuing TEMPTATION in the Food Movement TO GIVE UP ON the big “Jubilee Strategy” or “Farm Justice” issues of THE FARM BILL, though leaders like Pollan, Anna Lappé and others keep supporting farm bill work, (though in the misguided ways described above).

[11.] LACK OF major FARM SIDE INTEREST is another bad milestone for the Food Movement. It hasn’t even convinced the National Family Farm Coalition, (representing the major groups opposing “cheap food” for the past 60 years, [and correctly,]) to undertake much of any stategy focusing on the resources of the new Food Movement. Or National Farmers Union, or National Farmers Organization, etc.

Subsidies vs Price Floors in Farm Bill History, Revised

[Originally this was] in response to Jill Richardson’s 2010 “New Years Eve Daryll Ray-a-thon,”  at La Vida Locavore [and was dated 1/2/10].  In discussion, in the comments, I tried to explain some of the politics and history of subsidies so people can more easily tell what side someone is really on when they talk about subsidies. One response got a bit long, so I posted it on my own La Vida Locavore blog instead.  [La Vida Locavore no longer exists, so I’m now posting it here, as there continues to be a need to understand Farm Bill history.]

[This is a revised version]

SOME BRIEF HISTORY OF SUBSIDY POLITICS

The original farm bill came out of the New Deal, under the leadership of Iowa’s Henry A. Wallace, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture.  It then evolved through several successive farm bills and the Steagall Amendment 1941.  (The Steagall Amendment was passed through the banking committees as an economic stimulus.  Unlike the recent stimulus of government spending, it managed farm markets to further raise farm prices to parity or living wage levels, to generate wealth where the rate of wealth creation was high, in farming.)

Prior to Roosevelt, for decades farm prices were usually low with many “panics.” Coming from Hoover into Roosevelt in the Depression, my family saw 7¢ corn here in Iowa, and lost the farm. During the 1980s farm crisis my mother recalled this time (she was a young teen then):

“My Uncle Clyde wasn’t able to get my dad a job in the creamery or anywhere else. This was the summer of 1932, and the depression got even worse. We couldn’t pay the rent, so in the fall we had to move up to Aunt Alice’s and move into their upstairs! I felt terrible that we had to move in with relatives. Now I realize how my folks must have felt! The most humiliating thing of all was that my mother had to get Stewart to drive her over to Uncle Bill’s and ask to borrow some money! I imagine he said, ‘I told you so!'”

These policies, (Farm Bill with Steagall,) take it through Truman, with no commodity subsidies except a few on cotton in the early 30s, and a few “parity payments,” for a few years for 3 crops.  These were not needed and were quickly ended. We had 100% of parity in agriculture overall 1942-52. Program costs in one estimate were about $13 million in the black, meaning that the government made money on the program through interest on price floor loans, and by maintaining adequate price levels through 1952.

This is a major alternative to losing money on farm exports, (especially since 1981,) and driving down both U.S. and world farm prices, hurting wealth and jobs creation in farm areas including LDCs, which are 70% rural.  It was an antidote to hunger.  Today 80% of the “undernourished” are rural, (about 50% are farmers).   Not surprisingly global farmers have called for similar kinds of fair trade, with global price floors and effective supply management, and with international implementation. (Africa Group at WTO; European Community, La Via Campesina). So no subsidies were really needed.

Under Eisenhower price floors were lowered, however, lowering market prices.   Price floors were lowered further decade by decade, under both Republican and Democratic Presidents.  This added costs, as farmers turn more grain over to the government when prices fall, and then the government sells it later, at a lower price (since it was lowering market prices about every year for more than 40 years, after which prices were as low as possible,) thus losing money.

Rice & Subsid14

Progressive Democrats fought back, especially during the 1980s and 1990s, with calls to raise Price Floors back up nearly to parity levels.  Republicans in Congress continued to advocate for cheap prices for big business, though no reason (or need) for agribusiness to receive these huge Congressional benefits was ever given, (they continued to have returns on equity far higher than farmers, including repeated record highs, and record profits).

Farm prices don’t self-correct under free market conditions.  They “lack price responsiveness” “on both the supply and the demand sides for aggregate agriculture,” so they’re usually low.  this can be seen in the way that farm price drops closely followed Price Floors reductions. The evidence on this failure of free markets for agriculture is huge.

One exception was the price spike during the 70s, which was caused by the secret Russian grain deal, (“The Great American Grain Robbery,”) in which a huge amount of grain was suddenly purchased at very cheap prices.  This was then used as justification for ending farm programs, by people like Earl Butz, (Secretary of Agriculture under Richard Nixon,) though this was quickly and massively proven wrong, as prices continued to follow price floors downward, resulting in chronic low net farm income, even as yields increased greatly.  (Currently these market conditions are projected ahead through 2026.)

US NFI baseline

The lowering of Price Floors ran increasing numbers of farmers out of business, especially black farmers, who lost their farms at rates exceeding 50% per decade for four decades, 1950s, 1960s 1970s, and 1980s, (i.e. 100% of 1950 numbers, to <50% to <25% to <12.5% to much less than 6.25% in the end.

Starting in the cornbelt, the National Farmers Organization rose up rose up to oppose these cheap prices, (cheap corn, cheap food, cheap sugar).  NFO’s efforts, which were huge from the 1950s through the 1970s, were joined by many other farm groups, including the US Farmers Association, (starting in the 1950s,) National Farmers Union, and American Agriculture Movement.  Numerous alliances were formed as well.  All fought for fair prices instead of subsidies.  Today the history of this fight is largely unknown, (what I call farm justice illiteracy) as is this history of the farm bill itself.

INTRODUCING SUBSIDIES

Starting in 1961, Congress chose to respond to farmers’ outrage by paying them subsidies, while continuing to lower farm prices by even greater amounts, (even as they raised their own salaries). Subsidies compensated farmers for a fraction of the Congressional reductions (and losses) below fair prices.  Wheat and feedgrains (including corn) were the first crops to be compensated, in 1961.   Others were added later, in 1964 for cotton, 1977 for rice, and 1998 for soybeans, for example.  Over all, compared to prices in the parity years, subsidies have paid farmers only about 1/8 of the amount of the reductions, as the enormous hidden costs of “cheap food,” “cheap corn” have skyrocketed.

Subsidy compensations were revised a little under President Richard Nixon and Secretary of agriculture Earl Butz.  These changes reduced the ratio used to determine how much farmers would get compensated for value reductions.

With the 1970s price spike, the costs of farm production immediately raced upward. Under President Jimmy Carter, farmers won a small raise in price floor levels, (also called price supports,”) to address the skyrocketing costs, but not back up to the levels of the 1942-52 period, and these Price Floors were also soon lowered back down below where they had been previously.  (Note that in general, as costs inflated since 1953, Price Floors rarely had any cost of living adjustment, but were instead continuously lowered.)

The small, temporary Price Floor raise did not at all keep up with costs, and did not prevent the 80s farm crisis.  This is illustrated on the aqua chart above, where, figured as a percent of parity, (which figures in the escalating costs farmers had to pay,) the small price floor boost of the 1970s looks merely level for a few years for rice, before Congress lowered it further. though by today’s standards, the early farm crisis years look like “boom years.”  In fact, we can see in hindsight that the rise of the devastating crisis, occurred under the best farm bill that we’ve seen ever since (i.e. the 1980 farm bill).   The 1980 bill was much better than the 1985, 1990, 1996, 2002, 2008, or 2014 farm bills, which have each usually been worse than the one before, (perhaps excepting 2002, which was much much worse than the 1980 farm bill).   (Again, see on the aqua chart how rice Price Floors and prices were higher during the early 1980s than later.)  Of course, the opposite is true in reverse.  Looking backward to the 1942-52 period, every previous farm bill (counting back from 1980,) gets better, as the charts show.

President Reagan greatly increased subsidies, but lowered price floors even more than the increase, as shown below. Farmers got more from the government for a net lowering of farm income. Bush senior continued this, in the 1990 Farm Bill (the lowest Price Floors ever).

CornSafetyNet85

Clinton slightly raised the price floor, and vetoed Freedom to Farm, (the 1996 Farm Bill or FAIR Act,) once before signing it, in the Gingrich era.  That ended Price Floor programs, returning us to a deregulated ‘free’ market, to Hooverism, but with subsidies, for another net reduction in farm incomes.

Farmers called the bill “Freedom to Fail.”  It called for  new “de-coupled” subsidies for a few years, declining and ending for a return to classic Hooverism, (think 7¢ corn), with no subsidies.  De-coupled subsidies are given whether farmers need them or not.  The theory is that subsidies distort markets, though the evidence clearly shows that subsidies have only tiny, practically insignificant impacts on market prices.  Since Congress had created a “need” for subsidies, starting in 1953, de-coupling, [giving subsidies even if you don’t need them,] seemed to be a small issue, at first.

Very quickly, “Freedom to Fail” failed, and failed big!  This was quickly seen as a program that would destroy farming, with a massive new crisis, as farm justice advocates had predicted.  Bankers quickly joined farmers in Washington to point out that it was a disaster in the making.

Congress remained in denial about the failure of free markets.  Instead they covered up their failed ideology, and we passed four emergency farm bills in four years, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001.  This emergency legislation added a second kind of (counter cyclical) subsidy.  Farmers also got LDP subsidies, (Loan Deficiency Payments, which, I think, were an administrative option that Clinton implemented to address the crisis). So farmers ended with another big increase in subsidies, [resulting in another net] reduction in farm income for the subsidized crops, since market prices with no price floors, fell even more, [to year after year of the lowest prices in history]. This was massive dumping on global farmers, such as in Least Developed Countries.  It was caused by the ABSENCE of Price Floors, not by the PRESENCE of subsidies. The buyers of these crops and processors got the hidden ECONOMIC benefits of the free market since POLITICALLY, there was no market management].  These were the real “farm subsidies,” because the much bigger pot of money moved from farmers to the buyers of the agribusiness output complex.

HARKIN-GEPHARDT:  ALIAS THE FOOD FROM FAMILY FARMS ACT, ETC.

Another trend here is that many farm state Democrats continued to advocate for New Deal style programs over the decades of decline, [from the 1950s onward]. During the 1980s when farmers were again activated in a large number of groups such a farm bill was formulated and introduced into Congress, and won quite a few votes. It was known variously as the Farm Policy Reform Act, The Save the Family Farm Act, and the Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill (Harkin in Senate, Gephardt in House, both Democrats). Today it continues as the National Family Farm Coalition’s “Food from Family Farms Act.” The main groups supporting Price Floor programs today are the National Family Farm Coalition and its members, the National Farmers Union, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Food and Water Watch, the American Corn Growers Association (not the National Corn Growers Association), the American Agriculture Movement, and the National Farmers Organization.

Econometric Research by FAPRI (University of Missouri & Iowa State University,) on the Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill found that it would greatly reduce government costs, since it eliminated subsidies.

Gov Costs 88 95

At the same time, they found that it would greatly increase income from farm exports, (where the major farm program crops had been losing money every year during the 1980s and 1990s [except 1996] and beyond).

Export Valu 88 95

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).

SUBSIDIES vs PRICE FLOORS FOR THE 2008 FARM BILL

Today these issues appear to be almost totally unknown outside of NFFC and its friends. EWG listed 477 mainstream media articles supporting their position in support of a Green version of the Republican Freedom to Farm Act. The Kind Flake Amendment and probably all others amount to the same.

Sometimes Republicans support Hooverism instead of what we have had since 1996, which is Hooverism (free markets and free trade) with subsidy protection for farmers in rich countries. Low subsidy caps are a way to force large farms out of business or to force them to break up. It would probably be a kind of land reform, like forcibly running them out of business or making them illegal. Note that in the 90s we had a $50,000 cap and called for $25,000, while well meaning progressives have recently called $200,000 cap a good step. But these measures have nothing to do with price floors, and do not solve any of the big problems.

Cargill and ADM (and to a lesser degree, Tyson and Smithfield) are the huge beneficiaries of all the diversionary talk about subsidies, with no mention of price floors. What they’ve bought in Congress is policy that blames farmers and leads to no mention that the policies are designed primarily to benefit them, even at the expense of America losing money on farm exports of the major commodities virtually every year for a quarter century. If you look at the EWG 477 editorials, you’ll probably find hundreds of criticisms of farmers (who are merely partially compensated for losses caused by the lack of price floors) for every criticism of these real beneficiaries. Not also that Cargill, DAM, (processors and exporters) Tyson and Smithfield (poultry hog CAFOs) and the others (ie. Kelloggs).

You can find footnotes for much of this in my Zspace blog articles, as well as many links to online sources. I am also one place that explores this movement crisis online. I’ve seen NO other place online that writes much on these issues, especially in reference to mainline churches, hunger groups (Bread for the World and Oxfam are among the worst on the Commodity Title issues I raise), sustainable agriculture, and the food movement. (I link a few things from IATP on myths and APAC’s Daryll Ray on some media/etc. misunderstandings, however.)

FURTHER READING AND LINKS

From my blog [http://zcomm.org/author/bradwilson/] see especially my “foodie” and food movement pieces, such as my comparison of the National Corn Growers Association with so called progressives that supposedly hold radically different views: https://zcomm.org/zblogs/foodie-farmie-coalition-by-brad-wilson/ .

My “Farm Bill FACTs: Commodity Title: A Family Farm View” briefly goes right down a list of the main things I hear in the food movement and among the other groups I see as similarly missing the real issue, and then proves them wrong with online links:  https://zcomm.org/zblogs/farm-bill-facts-commodity-title-a-family-farmers-view-by-brad-wilson/.

If you look around at (https://zcomm.org/author/bradwilson/) you’ll see where I have footnoted pieces.

 

Missing Food Movement History: Highlights of Family Farm Justice: 1950-2000

INTRODUCTION

The following brief highlights, excerpted from my personal contacts with the history of the Family Farm Justice Movement, illustrate the magnitude of the story farm justice that has been mostly left out of books, films and articles about the foundations of the new “young” food movement. On the other hand, throughout the five decades of history that is briefly illustrated here, family farmers repeatedly spoke out passionately on the need for a large, committed consumer side food movement to actively join them in preserving and developing a healthy farm and food system.

I’ve been reviewing articles that interpret the development and role of various food movement sectors, and in which this five decades of family farm justice history has been largely left out.1  This blog is an expansion of that work.  Part of my general conclusion is that, in not understanding the history of farm justice, the food movement has also failed to properly understand how to advocate on the basis of their own core values, and has ended up unknowingly siding with agribusiness on the biggest issues.

1950s:

After more than a decade of “parity,” (fair trade, living wage farm prices,) during the Eisenhower administration, Congress caved in to corporate pressure and started lowering Price Floors to covertly subsidize farm commodity buyers with cheaper prices. This led to the restarting of a huge activist movement, led first by the National Farmers Organization.

1960s

By the 1960s NFO was mobilizing farmers from all across the country. They directly confronted corporate agribusiness through a series of holding actions to raise farm prices. 35,000 farmers attended a rally in Des Moines Iowa in the late 60s. Even bigger, during a 6 month period, more than 1,000,000 people showed up at NFO meetings in 19 states. In 1962, the Committee for Economic Development, a corporate think tank, had called for drastically further lowering Price Floors for corn, wheat, cotton, rice and other crops. Their stated goal was to run farmers out of business, “one third in a period of not less than five years.”

The report was led by a man representing Sears Roebuck & Co. At the aforementioned NFO rally farmers brought along Sears catalogs, and slammed them to the ground disgustedly, making a pile”14 or 15 feet high” with “a diameter of 40 or 50 feet at ground level.”2

1970s

NFO activities continued strongly into the 1970s.

The Agribusiness Accountability Project, a new organization in Washington D.C. framed the movement in new ways as a fight for justice. Among their reports was “Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times,” which directly confronted the Land Grant (agricultural) University Complex, which served as an ideological mouthpiece for agribusiness. This report was followed by a series of further reports on individual land Grant institutions, some of which (ie. Cornell University,) were written partly through pseudonyms, to protect Land Grant staff who authored the reports. Other key farm and food projects related to AAP from the 1970s included “The Great American Grain Robbery” (about the secret Russian grain deal), “Hamburger USA,” and “Eat Your Heart Out: How Food Profiteers Victimize the Consumer.”

During this decade the movement held a series of tractorcades in Washington DC, lobbying Congress. In the 1983 video Dairy Queens, farm justice movement leader Anne Kanten, of Minnesota, told of her experience when she “came around the corner of the Capitol, … and saw 40,000 farmers.” Later farmers camped out on the mall with their tractors for months.

A new organization, the American Agriculture Movement was formed during the 1970s and was a leader in many of these actions.

1980s

During the 1980s “farm unity” and “farmers alliance” coalitions sprang up all across North America. From one of the Dakota’s, the whole state legislature went to Washington to lobby the federal legislature. To stop “cheap corn,” and other commodity prices, in Iowa and other states activists won passage of state level Commodity Title legislation, minimum price bills, which were dependent upon a certain number of other states passing similar legislation. During campaigning for the Iowa, family farm justice advocates held farm debates, featuring almost all Democratic presidential candidates. They were forced to come before farm activist leaders and debate the issues on the farmers’ terms, with farmers as moderators, asking the questions. In 1985, 10,000 farmers attended the National Farm Crisis Action Rally.

Nationally, farmers wrote their own farm bill, the Farm Policy Reform Act, and got a lot of votes in the US Senate during the Reagan Administration! Like the New Deal Farm Programs of the Great Depression, the bill called for running farm programs like a business, balancing supply and demand, and setting a floor under and a ceiling over a fair standard (range) for market prices. Like the New Deal Programs, it called for no farm commodity subsidies. Several econometric studies showed that the bill would have greatly increased farm income and US export income, while greatly lowering government costs.2

Later in the decade, many thousands of farmers from all across America voted in forums on platform planks, and selected delegates that were taken by 2,400 movement leaders to the United Farmer and Rancher Congress, (sponsored by Farm Aid,) where a national platform was voted in. After years of fighting against farm credit abuses, major federal farm credit legislation was passed into law in 1987.

Another development starting in the 1980s was the rise of alternative farm commodity organizations, starting with the American Corn Growers Association, which has advocated for higher corn prices and an end to export dumping (the US losing money on farm exports,) on poor countries.  ACGA’s views contrast sharply with those of the National Corn Growers Association, which brings farmers to support cheap corn prices, (zero Price Floors,) to subsidize agribusiness buyers, with government welfare checks (framed in business management terms as “risk management,”) to hugely subsidize farmers for the massive reductions and losses.

1990s

By the 1990s fighting factory farms at the state level was a major part of movement activity. One major action was conducted at the National headquarters of the National Pork Producers Council in Des Moines, Iowa, where, in an act of civil disobedience, activists pounded a sign in front of their offices, renaming them the “National Factory Farms Council.” This was part of a major fight was against the “pork tax” or pork checkoff, and other major checkoff’s where family farmers are forced to pay, for example, a thousand dollars per year into a fund that is then used against them, for example to support packer ownership of farms. This was a national fight against big money. One strategy of the corporate elites was to use check-off money to spy on the opposition, including environmental organizations and, many believe, farmers themselves.  NPPC hired a private firm to spy on farm organizations such as Iowa CCI, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, the Center for Rural Affairs, and the Land Stewardship Project.

Those opposing the pork checkoff were said by NPPC to be “meat haters,” but in fact, hog farmers themselves voted it down nationally, and by 60.2% to 39.8% in Iowa, for example.

By the 1990s the work of the family farm justice movement was also brought significantly into the fair trade movement and spread globally, under the  leadership of groups like the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. This then played a role in helping the poor farming countries of the world to join with US family farm justice advocates in confronting GATT/WTO, and NAFTA issues.

The Africa Group at WTO later took strong stands supporting supply management and Price Floors for their long term, chronic problem of export dumping, low farm prices. The Africa Group is made up of farming countries, and mostly Least Developed Countries.

The US Family Farm Justice Movement became a crucial ally inside the US for the international peasant organization, La Via Campesina. In important ways, these groups and others in Europe and elsewhere with whom the US Family Farm Justice Movement allied, were helped to accurately understand the US Farm Bill’s impact on global export dumping, an understanding that has been significantly eroded by the US and EU food movement’s misunderstanding of farm subsidies.

Conclusion

I must ask: To what extent has the new young US “Food Movement” demonstrated similar accomplishments? Have they mobilized any 10,000-person rallies? Have they held presidential candidates accountable in debates they ran? Have they presented the major farm bill alternative (to a Republican farm bill that was the worst in history up to that point) in a house of Congress? Have they won any major votes of farmers themselves against agribusiness interests?

Clearly the food movement is huge and is charging into the issues. That’s great. Unfortunately they misunderstand the biggest farm justice issue, (the Price Floor issue that directly opposes the exploitative wealth of agribusiness,) as I’ve described extensively elsewhere. That’s surely related to their lack of knowledge of what came before. The history I’ve described above is largely pre-internet, and is not covered in any adequate way in any food movement book, film, footnoted report, blog or short video I’ve seen (and I’ve seen hundreds of such items). Our history is vital to our motivation and mobilization today. We in this movement, which is properly labeled as a “Farm and Food Movement,” must do better.

NOTES

1. Brad Wilson, “Forgetting Farm Justice: Revisionist Food Movement History and Strategy,” zspace, 1/19/12, https://zcomm.org/zblogs/forgetting-farm-justice-revisionist-food-movement-history-and-strategy-by-brad-wilson/ .

2. Willis Rowell, “Mad as Hell: An Inside Story of the NFO,” 1984

3. See, for example, FAPRI, “Analysis of Farm Bill Options,” February 1985.  (I plan to add charts to show this at SlideShare, http://www.slideshare.net/bradwilson581525/presentations .)  See charts of some of the results of these studies here, at about 7:15 and 8:15:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=feTeT45iWnc&index=18&list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767 .

FURTHER READING ONLINE

Ken Meter, Green Isle:  Feeding the World, Farming the Banker, Crossroads Resource Center and Farmer Labor Education Committee, 1983,  http://www.crcworks.org/gi.pdf .

Brad Wilson, “Farm Justice PRIMER: A Farm Bill Primer,”  ZSpace, 8/3/14, see especially “Some History,” https://zcomm.org/zblogs/farm-justice-primer-a-farm-bill-primer/ .

Interview with Rhonda Perry of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center Grassroots Missouri Organizing Since 1985: A Variety of Tactics, Consistent Strategies,” http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ra06/rperry_int05.html .

A Legacy of Crisis: Farmer Solutions, Corporate Resistance,” by George Naylor and Bert Henningson, Jr., Ames, Iowa, North American Farm Alliance, 1986, http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ra07/crisis_86.html .

Al Krebs, “The Corporate Reapers:” What the Food Movement Doesn’t Know About Food Policy, Brad Wilson, zspace, https://zcomm.org/zblogs/al-krebs-the-corporate-reapers-what-the-food-movement-doesn-t-know-about-food-policy-by-brad-wilson/ .

For Generations to Come: The Cost of America’s Farm Crisis,” An Interview with David Ostendorf, by David Ostendorf and Danny Collum, Sojourners Magazine, October 1986 (Vol. 15, No. 9, pp. 18-21), https://sojo.net/magazine/october-1986/generations-come-cost-americas-farm-crisis .

Mark Ritchie and Kevin Ristau, “Political History of U.S. Farm Policy,” League of Rural Voters, 1986 – See more at: http://www.iatp.org/documents/political-history-of-us-farm-policy#sthash.Og4vXvJJ.dpuf

Brad Wilson, “The Women of Farm Justice: Forgotten by Women Today?” ZSpace, August 1, 2014, https://zcomm.org/zblogs/the-women-of-farm-justice-forgotten-by-women-today/ .

Brad Wilson, “Flawed Food History: Farm Justice Missing from Timeline ,” ZSpace, 8/18/12, https://zcomm.org/zblogs/flawed-food-history-farm-justice-missing-from-timeline-by-brad-wilson/ .

VIDEOS

1979 Tractorcade to D.C. – Part 1,” YouTube, KinsleyLibrary, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu826as2LUU&index=53&list=PL6A69251AD0413A0D .

Beverly Snyder Anderson Remembers 1979 Tractorcade to Washington, D.C.,” YouTube, KinsleyLibrary, 11/5/12, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXb9PMJn7rY&list=PL6A69251AD0413A0D&index=54 .

1979 Tractorcade to D.C. – Part 2,” YouTube, KinsleyLibrary, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3K4YMzrlFQ&index=55&list=PL6A69251AD0413A0D .

Hamburger U.S.A.” YouTube, FireweedFarm, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTu91MhVTVc&list=PL80BDEB0F29C939EB&index=3 .

Brad Wilson, “Food Movement 1985: Were You There? We Were.” YouTube, 9/28/10, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2UY2jXvYfM&index=6&list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767 .

America’s Stake in the 1985 Farm Bill,” “Farm Bill 1:  Agribusiness Against Fair Prices,” YouTube, Fireweed Farm, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfgZqgfkxXk&index=11&list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767 . “Farm Bill 2:  The Farm Crisis,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VdFNHWLGxM&list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767&index=12 .  “Farm Bill 3:  Fair Prices & No Subsidies,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoWNTsd927g&index=13&list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767 .

1988 Presidential forum on Agriculture and Rural Life,” YouTube, IATP, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P_u_3tvGyM&list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767&index=26

American Agriculture Movement Protests, Chicago, 1985,” YouTube, MediaBurnArchive, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDsWs0wka2E&index=46&list=PL6A69251AD0413A0D

Trading Our Future? Defining Agricultural Trade Rules for the Next Century,” League of Rural Voters, (IATP,) YouTube, IATP, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjSGgTXauUo&index=4&list=PLFC72A86C908D808F .

(I’LL TRY TO UPDATE THIS WITH NEW ITEMS I’VE FOUND ONLINE, PLUS THE LOCATION OF ARCHIVES.)

 

Introduction: Brad Wilson

I work on “farm justice” issues across the internet, to help build a broad Farm AND Food Movement that emphasizes both sustainability AND distributive economic justice for farmers.  Part of this work is to better ground us all in the history of this work, in the Family Farm Movement of the past 60 years, (with roots in earlier times).  The Family Farm Movement has been a movement prioritizing “farm justice,” distributive economic justice for farmers, including minority farmers and women, both in the United States and globally.  Unfortunately, much of this earlier work is pre-internet, and not easily accessible to “Sustainable Food” or “Good Food” advocates today.

From a “farm justice” farmers point of view, (the view of long time “family farm” advocates,) the young new Food Movement is a blessing, as it is doing much great work on Food and Farm issues.  On the other hand, it has weaknesses steming from it’s inadequate contact and engagement with the older, historical Family Farm Movement.  That engagement can be challenging, but the rewards are great.  The path ahead, to our mutually shared goals of ecology, economy, community and health.