Cultural Leaders Are Responsible for the Collapse of Rural Culture

This paper assumes Albert Schweitzer’s argument in Civilization and Ethics, as described below.  Thus the title!

In 1923 Albert Schweitzer, in volume I of The Philosophy of Civilization, introduced his topic with a section on “How Philosophy is Responsible for the Collapse of Civilization.”[1] Schweitzer went on to write that, philosophy had evolved to the point where “the creative spirit had left her” and “the problems of life had no part in her activities.”[2]

Schweitzer’s predictions of decay proved prophetic as, within two decades, we witnessed a very real, very dramatic “collapse of civilization.” Echoing Schweitzer’s words, Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Nazi death camps later wrote that there is a “straight path” between reductionist views of humanity and “the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Maidenek.”[3]


Here in Iowa in our time we can paraphrase Schweitzer and consider the role of our own cultural community in “the decay and restoration” of our Midwestern regional culture and the larger civilization in which we participate. I want to give special attention to the process of rural decay and to a lesser extent, the decay of our inner cities. I can illustrate our rural decay with reference to the latest and most dramatic expression of Iowa’s “problems of life:” the rapid takeover of hog farming by hog factories, in accordance with the North Carolina model of megatechnology and corporate welfare, and funded by outside investors such as North Carolina politician and billionaire, Wendell Murphy,[4] and even Chinese and the Brazilian megacorporations.

It was nearly fifty years ago that the cartoon character Pogo, standing amidst environmental destruction, stated: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Well, let’s look carefully at the contrast between Iowa’s environmental awareness and our cultural awareness, as illustrated by the crisis in our livestock industry at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

While it is true that a hog factory in Iowa can legally pump as much raw sewage as a small town produces into an earthen sewage structure, without being required to build a sewage treatment plant, still, since the very beginning, hog factory proponents have been forced to face the environmental question. They have been forced by Iowa’s environmental community to claim that what they are doing is good for the environment.[5] With the exception of a few kinks yet to be worked out by scientists at Iowa State University, they are not destroying Iowa’s ecosystem, they declare. Iowa’s environmental community, while losing over and over again at the state legislature, has at least forced advocates for industrial agriculture to claim they’re pro-environment. No longer can they get away with the position that being pro-environment is bad for business. Even Governor Branstad, year after year in his state of the state speech, claimed that Iowa has the toughest environmental laws in the nation, even though we now know that Iowa rivers are some of the dirtiest. So he spoke out in favor of the need for strong environmental laws, even if he didn’t support them.

Now, let’s take this same issue and turn it around and look at the cultural side of it. Here we find that the same people who have been forced to at least give lip service to the defense of Iowa’s natural ecosystem, still claim that the destruction of Iowa’s cultural “ecosystem” is beneficial for the state. We need a natural ecosystem to stay alive and to thrive biologically. They acknowledge this. What they do not see is that we also need a healthy culture, and not merely to provide “exciting” attractions for tourists and our youth.  We need a sane culture just to survive.  In taking such a hostile attitude to our rural cultural heritage, these academic, business and political leaders dramatically illustrate the overwhelming failure of cultural education in the state of Iowa.

Now, let me explain more fully why I believe, with Schweitzer, that the cultural community, by grossly neglecting to apply their expertise to the very tangible “problems of life” of Iowa’s awesome agricultural/agribusiness drama, is “responsible for the collapse of civilization” here, and driving many our our best young people out of the state.

First, consider this: in his book On Thermonuclear War, Herman Kahn speculated about how many tens of millions dead in a nuclear holocaust would be “acceptable losses.”[6] Erich Fromm, writing about Kahn’s book, argued that “we are dealing here with one of the crucial problems of our age–the transformation of men into numbers on a balance sheet.”[7] Do you hear Schweitzer here? Do you see Frankl?

Now switch from Kahn’s military think tank in 1960 to the Committee for Economic Development in 1962, just two years later. In their report “An Adaptive Program for Agriculture,” the CED called for a program “. . . to induce excess resources (people primarily) to move rapidly out of agriculture,” one third of the farmers and farm workers “in a period of not more than five years,” by lowering price floors for corn and other feed grains.[8] “Excess resources.” Now there’s a term. How’s that for reductionism against Iowa’s rich heritage of rural culture.

Here in Iowa this same exact “balance sheet thinking” has been touted by Iowa State University for forty years. In 1962 Geoffrey Shepherd, in a report, “Appraisal of the Federal Feed-Grains Programs,” included a section called “Need Programs to Facilitate the Migration of Surplus Farmers Off Farms.”[9] Thirty-six years later (1998) Iowa State University Extension publications still carried a 1986 publication which opened with a statement about “a need to move excess resources out of agriculture . . . labor resources.”[10]

In these reports the deliberate destruction of rural culture, of Iowa’s living rural heritage is advocated without the slightest consideration of the civilizational value of this culture.

Another report coming out of Iowa State University and the Iowa Business Council in 1993 makes the cultural issue explicit. In this report they make it very clear. There are two sides, they point out: the reductionists who claim that “farming is a business” and nothing but a business, and the culturalists who insist that, in actual fact, farming is not just a business, its a way of life.[11] In this contrast they give virtually nothing to culture. No, the “way of life” people, they insist, are not fit to survive. The “way of life” people are backward, ignorant losers, they claim, closed off to the magnificent changes which the utopia of reductionism can bring to the state of Iowa.[12]

In contrast, the reductionists, the farming-is-nothing-but-a-business people will be Iowa’s agricultural leaders, they boldly prophecy.[13] They represent the wave of the future. And they’ve got a point there, for as I have suggested, our actual leaders, the dominant academic, economic and political leaders of Iowa fall mostly within the reductionist camp. Why wouldn’t others aspire to share their culturally illiterate views, when I have rarely seen a cultural leader speak out persistently against the onslaught of what Viktor Frankl might call pre-holocaust thinking. Where were they, for example, when, back in 1988, Iowa State University President Gordon Eaton proclaimed ignorantly that “farming is a business, not a way of life.” In my years of living in Springville, Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, Iowa City and Des Moines I have not seen where our cultural scholars have come forth to set the record straight.

Clearly, America didn’t listen to Schweitzer. We didn’t hear the fascist horsemen tromping toward us very well, even up to 1940. But Picasso did! He painted Guernica! Rollo May, an American psychologist well read in the humanities described his encounter with Guernica.

When this picture first came to this country, I went down to see it at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I walked into the room and there was this large picture, all in white and grey and black, a picture showing a bulls head cut off, babies impaled upon swords, torn women lying in the agony of the bomb. The impression on me was so powerful that I could not stand any more than two or three minutes. I had to run out again and walk up and down the street until I could come back and look at it again.[14]

America’s true cultural leaders saw the collapse coming, but knew that most Americans, in our isolation and comfort, were blind to the depth of danger surging up around us. For example, in 1939 Lewis Mumford wrote that,

Probably the most serious mistake a civilized man can now make is to assume that the fundamental values of life have not been altered in the fascist countries. Traveling through Germany or Italy, the naive observer sees lovers kissing, mothers nursing babies, honest peasants cleaving the soil with mattock or shovel: life looks ‘normal.’ . . . The fact that the entire country has become, quite literally, a concentration camp does not even occur to him: . . .

Large groups of people still somehow refuse to believe that nations which use the radio and the electric motor can, by a purely ideological transformation, become hostile to all those traditions that cement together the members of civil society.[15]

One year later he argued the case for the seeing with the eyes of the humanities. First he quoted Herman Melville: “. . . your arts advance in faith’s decay: you are but drilling the new Hun . . . .”[16] Then he warned:

One of the great difficulties in understanding what has taken place under our eyes, . . . is the fact that political and economic disturbances are usually the final symptoms of a collapsing civilization. These visible facts are preceded by a much longer period of inner decay, which only a few people–usually separated from their society by alien beliefs–recognize as the symptom of organic disease.[17]

In our day, family farmers, particularly those experiencing themselves within their own “way of life,” representing therefore, the spirit of an alternative cultural heritage to that of our dominant urban civilization, should be sought out on questions of this fundamental “organic disease” of reductionism. In particular, organic farmers, separated as they have been, laughed at by agricultural extension workers, ignored by agricultural leaders at Iowa State University,[18] cut out of the benefits of farm programs,[19] could, with cultural assistance and support, provide powerful cultural insight to our narrow minded leadership elites. Iowa would then see more clearly that farmers today are echoing Lewis Mumford’s 1940 warning:

Let us not be deceived by outward signs of activity and vitality. In the very generation that Rome finally fell into the hands of the barbarians, there were renewed expenditures, on a grand scale, for public works.[20]

Iowa’s corporate executives need to be more effectively exposed to the dramatic presence of these farmers, for as American poet Walt Whitman put it, “I and mine do not convince by arguments: we convince by our presence.”[21]

Charles Hampden-Turner, a consultant on corporate culture, noted that pesticide company executives for which he worked “shied away from the really ‘monstrous dilemmas.”[22] And no wonder, for as Iowa’s organic farmers have proved, we can produce plenty of food whithout them. In contrast to the Iowa Business Council, Hampden-Turner argued that “We need to create wealth more effectively but, more than that, we need leaders who can stare into the face of the absurd and find in it meaning that could save us all.”[23]

To me it is clear: Iowa needs to hear deeper cultural voices. That’s what I’m trying to do as a folk artist, as a writer and as a public intellectual. As a farmer I’m independent. I have no contracts. I own all of my livestock. I make my own management decisions. No North Carolina billionaire tells me what to do.

I’m also an artist. I’m an independent artist emerging from the private sector. I create folk art and no academic, corporate or political group tells me what I can or can’t do. What I do is place my self inside of rural Iowa’s awesome cultural drama. I stand there, in person, side by side with other advocates for culture and sustainability, head to head against Iowa’s reductionist, anti-culture academic, business and political leaders. Repeatedly we have taken on these leaders, calling them by name and challenging their cherished philosophical illusions. At times we can become overwhelmed by the drama of these encounters. For example, during the mid 1990’s I made a long series of phone calls to Iowa farmers for the Center for Rural Affairs. To me, encountering so many real people, immersed so deeply in pathos, people like my friends and neighbors, became unbearable. It was, I believe, like Rollo May’s encounter with Guernica.

For sustenance I turn first to my faith. I find, however, that immersion within the mythology of faith can make a person vulnerable to radical otherworldly illusions if not checked and balanced by humanism and the humanities. I find, in fact, that the persona of the artist, fortified by an excellent liberal arts education, can, in its turn, provide an awesome, mythically-enriched resource for integrating these deep encounters with the current realities of Iowa culture at the brink of the twenty-first century.

And so, my vision for 2010, (or 2017,) does not ask that Iowa’s business, academic, political and cultural leaders join together to create a “National Center for Rural Culture.” First, I don’t believe that these leaders are remotely capable of completing such a project with integrity. Second, we have almost no small scale models for bringing cultural education into Iowa’s real dramas of life: for bringing cultural literacy to our corporate leaders; enhancing the artistic skills of our farmers;[24] and enabling professional artists to encounter this awesome drama, first hand, at it’s points of depth and authenticity. We are clearly not ready, therefore, to build a National Center for Rural Culture.

What we need instead is something akin to the Highlander Folk Center in Tennessee. At Highlander they immersed themselves, in person, in two powerful dramas, first the labor movement and then the civil rights movement. They built upon the traditions of folk culture and made it accessible to people of pathos all across the South. It was there, for example, that Martin Luther King learned the song “We Shall Overcome.” Highlander accomplished this over and against the top academic, economic, political and cultural leaders of the South. Clearly, if these same leaders had dominated Highlander’s board it wouldn’t have happened.

In his later years the late Myles Horton, the founder and director of Highlander, stated that he hoped to be a part of a third major cultural drama before he died. Now, some years after his death that drama has arrived here in Iowa in what I call “the fight for beauty.” Here we fight on behalf of Iowa, the beautiful land of family farms, rural communities and regional cities. We fight for the natural beauty of Iowa’s savannas and savannah-like checkerboard farms. We fight too for the cultural beauty which is so essential to our quality of life.

For me then, as a farmer, culture is a tradition built into the private sector. It is part of the subsidy which my neighbors and I, (and others like us across the state,) offer to the larger culture as we do business. What we offer is not so much “values added” as “values reconciled.”[25] As a man educated in the humanities I constantly work to make reconciliations explicit. For example, when we sell our lamb, poultry and eggs at the farmer market, we promote our operation as “A Regeneration of Culture.” We call ourselves Fireweed farm, quoting Lewis Mumford’s prodigious work of cultural history: “Great cities might be leveled to the ground, their temples ransacked, their libraries and records burned: but the village at least would spring up again, like fireweed, in the ruins.”[26] We exhort our customers to buy our “fireweed food,” not just because of our “humane husbandry”and “sustainable technology,” but also for our “advocacy for beauty and justice” and our “family farm culture.”

In the concluding volume of his “Renewal of Life” series, Lewis Mumford cited Albert Schweitzer as “a classic example of renewal and integration.” Schweitzer work reached across the humanities and sciences to the very practical matters of survival in nonliterate regions of Africa. As Mumford stated:

In philosophy or theology, in medicine or in music, Schweitzer’s talents were sufficient to guarantee him a career of distinction: . . . But in order to remain a whole man, Schweitzer committed the typical act of sacrifice for the coming age: he deliberately reduced the intensive cultivation of any one field in order to expand the contents and the significance of his life as a whole.

So it is in his actual living, much more than in his words, that Schweitzer excelled, leading him, as it did, ultimately into a healing role within the larger drama of the primitive peoples of colonial Africa. Mumford concluded that,

if Western civilization escapes the evil fate that its over commitment to mechanism and automatism, its wholesale denial of humane values and purposes now threatens it with . . . then the form that life will take and the type of personality that will nurture it is the form and type that Albert Schweitzer has embodied. On such a basis the renewal of life is possible.


[1] Albert Schweitzer, The Philosophy of Civilization: Part I: The Decay and Restoration of Civilization, (London: A & C Black Ltd., 1947), p. 1.

[2] Ibid. pp. 9, 10.

[3] Viktor Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), p. 123.

[4] See Pat Stith, Joby Warrick, Mealanie Sill, etc., “Boss Hog: North Carolina’s Hog Revolution,” (Originally a series in Raleigh, N.C.: The News and Observer, May 12- 1996).

[5] See, for example, Thomas Urban, et al.“The Food Production System in Iowa, Gaining World Market Share,” (Iowa Animal Agriculture Council in collaboration with the Iowa Business Council: January 1993). Note: first we are reassured that the environment will improve “as we would wish” if farmers have access to boh capital and new technology. (p. 4) But later we are cautioned about environmental concerns (pp. 15, 16) and told that “All must work diligently to remove any and all, impediments to the generation of technology and effective use of capital. . . .“ (p. 17)

[6] Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960).

[7] Erich Fromm, May Man Prevail: An Inquiry Into the Facts and Fictions of Foreign Policy, (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1961, 1964), p. 197.

[8] “An Adaptive Program for Agriculture,” (Committee for Economic Development, 1962), pp. 25, 42, 59.

[9] “Appraisal of the Federal Feed-Grains Programs,” Research Bulletin 501, (Agricultural and Home Economics Experiment Station, Iowa State University of Science and Technology: January 1962) p. 374.

[10] “Policies and Programs to Ease the Transition of Resources Out of Agriculture,” (Cooperative Extension Service, Iowa State University, May 1986).

[11] “The Food Production System in Iowa, op. cit., pp. 1, 2, 12.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Rollo May, “Creativity and Evil,” in Paul Woodruff & Harry Witmer, Facing Evil: Light at the Core of Darkness, (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1988), p. 76.

[15] Lewis Mumford, Men Must Act, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1939), pp. 52-53.

[16] Lewis Mumford, Faith for Living, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1940), p.1.

[17] Ibid., p. 13.

[18] In 1990 organic farmers working with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement negotiated an agreement with administrators from Iowa State University for the provision of practical information on how to farm organically. That promise has never been met (as of 2001). When I visited ISU Extension publications in February of 2001, there was still not a single publication on how to farm organically.

[19] CCI research.

[20] Mumford, Faith for Living, op. cit., p. 17.

[21] For a fuller discussion related to Whitman’s concept of presence see Lewis Mumford, The Conduct of Life, volume IV of his Renewal of Life series, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1951), pp. 100-107.

[22] Charles Hampden-Turner, Charting the Corporate Mind, (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1990), p. 134.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Robert Wolfe has enabled farmers to write folk literature. See Voices from the Land and similar books. Likewise, Tim Faye has introduced cultural people to the rural drama in his annual publication of The Wapsipinicon Almanac, for example, with a book review of Jim Schwab’s Raising Less Corn and More Hell: Midwestern farmers Speak Out.

[25] See Charles Hampden-Turner, op. cit., ch. 1, “How Value is Created.” Cf. Charles Hampden-Turner, Creating Corporate Culture, Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1990).

[26] Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: Technics & Human Development, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1967.

[27] Lewis Mumford, The Conduct of Life, New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1951.


This paper, originally written some years ago, I now see as particularly relevant to the the rural Trump vote, which, in my view, is rooted in the drama of rural trauma.  See my other recent writing on this question, starting here.

Brad Wilson, “Election, Rural Vote, Donald Trump: Why and What We Need to Do,” Family Farm Justice, 11/12/16, .

Brad Wilson, “Rural Trump Vote:  Who’s Behind the Trauma,” slide show (public), Brad Wilson on Facebook, .

Save the Family Farm


Since 1981, over 500,000 of the most efficient producers of American food have been put out of business. Of the 640,000 American family farmers who remain, 120,000 will be shut down within two years, and another 200,000 are teetering on the brink of extinction. While the prices the American consumer pays at the grocery store average 30 percent more than they did six years ago.


Where’s all the money going? To the middlemen – the giant processors and international shippers who re making obscene profits off a federal farm policy that is driving family farmers out of business, undermining the benefits the consumer receives from the competitive structure of agriculture, adding to our national trade deficit, and threateneing to increase interest rates by 2 to 3 percent.

And who’s funding this program? Taxpayers and consumers to the tune of $26 billion in subsidies last year to agribusiness conglomerates. While Kellogg’s return on equity over the last fiver years averaged 33.4percent, the farmers nationwide were receiving a minus 13.4% return. The value of the wheat farmers produced to go into a $1.41 box of General Mills’ Wheaties may have fallen by 42% per bushel, but the price of that 12-ounce box on the grocery store shelf rose by 36%.

If this trend continues, agribusiness monopolies will dictate how our land is used, what we grow, what we eat, and what price we pay for our food.

The Save the Family Farm Act addresses these problems.


Falling food prices were disastrous for farmers, but the losses they suffered matched the profits reaped by the next link in the food chain – the processors.”

–Forbes, January 12, 1987

Under current Administration policy, the nation’s farmers realized a return on equity of minus 13.4 percent. According to Forbes, food processing conglomerates over the past five years have averaged outrageous returns on equity.



According to the Food and Policy Research Institute of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Iowa State University, the Save the Family Farm Act will double net farm income.


The A&M study found that only the Save the Family Farm Act would produce a positive net cash income in every region of Texas.

A Texas A&M study concludes that the net farm income for each of the major farming regions of Texas will double and, in some cases, quadruple. The study also concludes that the probability of success for representative Texas farms is between 90 and 100 percent under the act. Income from farm exports will increase nationwide by at least 60 percent.


The Texas A&M Agriculture Food and Policy Center compared the effects on four representative farms of the Reagan administration’s 1985 Farm Bill and the Save the Family Farm Act. Only the Save the Family Farm Act gives all four Texas farms a high probability of showing a profit.
As a Texas A&M study shows, the Save the Family Farm Act is the best chance we have for ensuring that farms in all parts of Texas survive.”

Jim Hightower, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture


Because the costs of the save the Family Farm Act are paid for in the market pace and not in the tax return, consumers will see an average annual food price increase of 1.6 percent. At the same time, the percentage of the average consumer’s income spent on food will decrease by one-third by 1995.


The debt owed by American farmers is more than the combined debts of Mexico and Brazil. Under current policy, $66 billion (a little over one-fourth the farm debt) cannot be recovered. The debt restructuring provisions of the Save the Family Farm Act will prevent default on over half this debt, greatly reducing inevitable increases in consumer interest rates.

The increased farm values resulting from the Save the Family Farm Act, if passed through in their entirety to consumers, would increase food prices by 1.6 percent per year.



The Save the Family Farm Act provides the only avenue before Congress for a full-scale assault on hunger and malnutrition in this country without the appropriation of new funds. It advocates the conversion of a portion of the money now spent on agribusiness subsidies to provide funding and outreach for programs to feed the hungry and malnourished.


Through acreage reduction, the Save the Family Farm Act will remove environmentally sensitive farmland from production. It will also reduce the use of chemical fertilizers in agricultural production.


The current crop monitoring functions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will enable that department, without hiring any additional employees, to make sure producers are accountable for the business management provisions of the Save the Family Farm Act.


Current farm policy has driven most of those who have entered farming in the last 15 years out of business. The Save the Family Farm Act provides a means for young farmers to enter the business and stay in business.

The Save the Family Farm Act is our only chance to save the independent, competitive structure of food production in this country.”

Jim Hightower, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture


• Rescues 160,000 family farmers who would otherwise go out of business and enables 360,000 others to earn a decent living once again.

• Eliminates up to $15 billion in taxpayer subsidies per year.

• From these savings, makes billions of dollars available every year for food assistancew for the poor and near poor.

• Restores a producer-initiated “business management” approach to U.S. farm production.

• Returns credibility to U.S. export policy.

•Ensures that environmentally-sensitive farmland is removed from production.

The Save the Family farm Act gives Americans a way to do far more good for our farm econmomy by spending less.

Jim Hightower, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture


From the Texas Department of Agriculture, Farmers Assistance Program, during the administration of Jim Hightower.



IATP, NSFFC, “Save the Family Farm Act Discussion,” .

League of Rural Voters, (IATP), “Beyond the Crisis: Solutions for Rural America,” .

League of Rural Voters, “America’s Stake in the 1985 Farm Bill,” .

The Farm Policy Reform Act of 1985

Family Farms: To Be or Not to Be

Much more is invoved in writing the 1985 Farm Bill than just another rewite of commodity programs. This year’s bill– more than any other since the Agricultural Adjustment Ats of 1933 and 1938, will determine the structure of American agriculture for generations. Either by specific design or by defaut, tis bill will answer a fundamental quesiton of public policy: Will the U.S. base its agricultual future on hundreds of thousands of cecentralized, entrepreneurial units (the family farm system) or forsake them and shift contol of agricultural production into the hands of centtralied, integrated food conglomerates and giant farm combines?

The 1985 bill can aanswer that question on one of three ways: (1) by embracing the radical “market clearing” prposal of President Reagan, which will yank the rug out from under productive family farmers and abruptly create massive concentration of agricutural assets; (2) by merely tinkering with target prices and loan rates in the current program, which will only continue the steady attrition in the ranks of good farmers and lead more slowly to a concentrated economic structure, or (3) take decisive steps to put America’s family farmers on sound economic footing again, which will turn them loose to meet their full potential as the world’s best providers of food and fiber.

The Eleventh Hour

If we want to recommit to the family structure of agriculture, 1985 is our last, best hope. Half steps or delayed action will not do the job, because most of these families will not be around two or lthree years from now if positive reform is not undertaken this year.

For more than a decade, federal farm programs have forced America’s famers to overproduce in a hopeless effort to meet rising costs and to take disastrously-low prices for their commodities. As a consequence, for the first time since the Great Deprssion, farmers have suffered four consecutive years of negative return on equity, averaging a loss of 7% per year. The results are now front-page news: Since January of 1981, roughly 380,000 farmers have gone out of business in the U.S., and we now are losing them at a rate of nearly 1,600 every week.

What is the Reagan Administration’s response to the situation? The headlines scream it out: “STOCKMAN: AMERICA HAS TOO MANY FARMERS . . . He supports a “’shakeout,’ not a ‘bailout.’” They’re not kidding. At a time when the market price of nearly every commodity is below our farmers’ cost of producing them, the Reagan Administration proposes to lower price supports drastically to “market clearing” levels.

What the Reagan program will “clear” is the countryside and Main Streets across America . . . unless family farmers, farm community merchants, farm state banksers, farm equipment industry workers, environmentalists, hunger activists, consumers across the country and our political leaders will unite behind an alternative program that will restore prosperity to rural America and gneerate, from the ground up, the new economic activity that will put urban Americans back to work and create a real economic recovery across our land.

The Farm Policy Reform Act of 1985

In a series of farm forums held throughout the country in 1984 and in hundreds of private meetings held during the past two years, farm groups and individuals expressed broad support for a new commonsense program to help efficient farmers bring their surplus production back into some reasonable balance with demand so they can get a fair price in the marketplace, rather than constantly overproducing and having to take survival payments from taxpayers.

In response, a cross section of family farmers, consumers, agriculture lenders, environmentalists, taxpayers and elected officials have developed the “Farm Policy Reform Act of 1985.”

The major features of the proposal are:

1. Elimination of subsidy payments. Producers would receive a fair price for their crops in the marketplace, not from the government. Costly subsidy payments would be eliminated, and the price floor (the pice-support loan rate) for each commodity would be set at a level approximating the full cost of production for that product.

As of last November, for reference, the program formula woud have set the price floors for eight major storable commodities at these levels:


In each subsequent year of the program, the price floors woud be gradually raised until, in the eleventh year of the program, they reach the level at which farmers’ returns on equity and labor are on a par with the rest of our economy.

2. Balancing production with need. Mandatoryproduction controls (subject to a producer referendum) would limit U.S. production of storable commodities to actual demand, including domestic consumption, export demand, humanitarian need and strategic reserve requirements.

3. Targeted benefits to family farmers. Each producer would have s single acreage base compromised of any acres on which any of the designated commodities were grown in any of the last four years. Each producer would be required to set aside 15% of this acreage base, but in times of surplus, giant operators would e required to set aside a progressively higher percentage of their base (a disincentive to conglomerate and tax-loss ventures).

4. Promotion of sound conservation practices. Locally-approved conservation practices would be required on all set-aside land. In addition, farmers could participate in a National Conservation Reserve, allowing for the voluntary, long-term retirement of fragile land. The Act would also contain prohibitions against “sodbusting” and provisions to encourage better protection of scarce groundwater resources.

5. Elimination of current disaster payments and disaster loan programs. The current myriad of programs would be consolidated into one simplified approach that offers income protection to producers and protects both consumers and livestock producers from shortage-induced price increases. Each producer would annually contribute a portion (probably 3-4%) of production as an “insurance premium” into a national Farmers’ Disaster Reserve (FDR). In the event of a disaster, a producer would receive commodities from the FDR to compensate for up to 90% of the loss.

The current Federal Crop Insurance Corporation should be expanded to cover perishable commodities, which would be insured for a percentage of the previous years marketings.

6. Increased funding for humanitarian food aid. The USDA would be directed to enter into multilateral agreements with other food-exporting nations to fulfill food aid requirements to needy countries. These multilateral agreements should also mandate that additional emphasis be placed on helping needy nations develop food self-sufficiency to the degree possible, with each exporting nation allocating an amount of cash or other resources consistent with their level of food aid.

7. Increased promotion of export markets. Market development would include increases in export credits, negotiation of more multi-year export contracts, and a “monetary adjustment program” allowing foreign buyers to receive, when available, surplus commodities from government stocks to offset the negative impact of the overvalued dollar.

8. Strong support for domestic food assistance. The program would address the right of every American to a nutritious diet and, through the Food Stamp program, the Women, Infants and children program, and other elderly and child nutiriton programs, would povide adequate assistance to eligible needy families and individuals.

9. Farm credit and debt restructuring. Congress should immediately enact a temporary moratorium on farm foreclosures until the Act takes effect, at which time any foreclosed borrowers would be offered first right of refusal to repurchase any of their land or equipment not yet disposed of. The Act would contain provisions to allow deferral of principal payments for one to five years if the borrowers can project an adequate cash flow by the end of the deferral period to resume payments on the principal.

In addition, the higher price support levels and the FDR crop insurance program in the Act should greatly increase lenders willingness to make operating loans to farmers and should halt the decline in the value of most farmland.

Material above was published in Des Moines, Iowa: Iowa Farm Unity Coalition, Iowa Farm Unity News, Vol. 1, No. 1, May 1, 1985, p. 3.

It’s up to us!

The Farm Policy Reform Act can be the 1985 farm bill. It’s up to us. Members of Congress from both parties are looking for an approach that restores prosperity to rural America but reduces the exorbitant costs of current farm programs. A number of them are already committed to fighting for the Farm Policy reform Act. Others have indicated their agreement with the program in principle but have expressed doubts that farmers woud support a mandatory program.

If you want to see this program enacted this year, let your members of Congress know. Show this flier to your family, your neighbors and your local merchants. Have them sign the petition and add a page or two when it’s filled up. Then, whether your petition has one signature or a hundred, send it or carry it to your elected representatives in Washington.

Don’t wait. The farm you save may be your own.



League of Rural Voters, (IATP), “Beyond the Crisis: Solutions for Rural America,” .

League of Rural Voters, “America’s Stake in the 1985 Farm Bill,” .

IATP, NSFFC, “Save the Family Farm Act Discussion,” .

Family Farm Act of 1987

S.658 H.R. 1425

The Introduction of the Family Farm Act is the culmination of a year of intensive behind-the-scenes work in Washington and in the countryside. The heart of the bill – the price and supply management sections – remains similar to the Farm Policy Reform Act of 1985, which was defeated by the Administration and agribusiness interests. But at the conclusion of the 1985 Farm Bill fight work began immediately on fine-tuning provisions of the Reform Act, adding major new sections and restructuring the national grassroots coalition to take the policy back to Congress as quickly as possible.

In late 1985, the National Fair Credit Committee was formed to develop comprehensive debt restructuring legislation to accompany our price and supply management bill. The organizations comprising the National Coordinating Committee for the Farm Policy Reform Act were joined by new groups from across the country in this effort. The resulting Fair Credit Plan, coupled with the price increases provided through our bill, would keep more than 95% of our farmers on the land and in business, according to university economists.

In January of 1986, the National Coordinating Committee and the Fair Credit Committee merged to form the National Save the Family Farm Coalition (NSFFC). This structure has provided our greatest organized strength yet to carry out grassroots policy development and public education. Some 38 grassroots organizations covering 28 states are now members.

A working group comprised of members of Congress, their staff, and farm organization representatives was structured in April and met throughout the summer months. The NSFFC has been a key player at the negotiating table. The progressive national farm organizations — The American Agriculture Movement, the National Farmers Union and the National Farmers Organization – are now united behind our bill. And our friends in the House and Senate are now together on one bill with a common strategy and the strong leadership of Harkin and Gephardt.

All of these developments, on top of the absolute failure of current legislation, have put us in the strongest position yet with our legislation. It is up to all of us to make sure that we do achieve its passage!

Bill Summary:

The Bill would accomplish the following goals:

1. Allow our Food Producers to Earn a Living Again

The Bill would establish commodity price floors which would allow efficient family farmers to earn a reasonable return on their investment and labor. Int he first year the price support loan rate would e set at 70% of parity or roughly equal to the cost of production. Using current parity levels, the 70% formula would establish the price floors listed below. Note that in each case, the price floors under the Family Farm Act, while considerably higher than current prices, are still significantly lower than the ten-year average market prices of these commodities in the 1970s when adjusted for inflation.

Fig. 1, Net income, FAPRI Staff Report #2-87, February 1987, ( ).


In each subsequent year of the program the floors would be increased by one percent of parity until they reached 80% of parity.

*In 1987 dollars; annual production volumes were weighted for calculating average price of each commodity for ’70-’79 decade. Prices from ’70s do not include any federal subsidy payments also paid on these crops.

The economists of FAPRI – the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute of Iowa State University and the University of Missouri – project that the Family Farm Act would, on average from 1988 through 1995, generate over $21 billion more in net farm income annually than the current program.

2. Balance Supply with Demand

Mandatory production controls (subject to producer approval in a nation wide referendum) would limit U.S. production of program commodities to the projected amounts needed to meet actual demand, including domestic consumption, export demand, humanitarian need and strategic reserve requirements. A farmer would only be allowed to market a volume of commodities equal to his authorized acres times his historic per-acre yield. Any excess production would be stored and applied against the following year’s marketing quota.

3. Slash Farm Program Costs

According to the FAPRI projections, federal Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) outlays from fiscal 1988 through fiscal 1995 would average $14.4 billion a year less under the Family Farm Act than under current legislation. Costly subsidy payments would be eliminated. And with production reduced to better reflect actual demand, producers would sell their production in the market place, not to the government, thereby eliminating costly storage payments.

Additional savings would also come from the livestock transition program contained in the bill. In the fist three years of the Family Farm Act, the government will be allowed to recoup billions of dollars of its investment by selling a significant volume of these commodities to livestock producers. Under this transition program, which is designed to “ease” livestock producers into the higher grain prices, they would be allowed to purchase government-owned grain at below-market prices. In the first year, each producer could purchase up to $50,000 worth of grain at approximately the price at which the government had acquired it. The prices would be increased in subsequent years until, at the end of the transition period, the livestock producers would again be required to purchase their grain on the open market.

4. Target Benefits to Family Farmers

The percentage of acres each farmer would be required to set aside would be determined by the size of his/her operation Smaller and mid-sized producers would set aside the minimum (20-25%) while the largest producers would be required to set aside up to the maximum of 35%. In other words, the larger the producer, the more he/she will be required to set aside.

An additional pro-family farm provision in the bill requires that the crop acreage “base” on a piece of land be reduced by 10% if the land is sold to anyone other than a family farmer. These bases would then be re-allocated by the local committee with priority given to: 1) farmers, who by practicing sound conservation practices such as crop rotation are left with an understated crop base and 2) new farmers.

These provisions are designed both to direct program benefits to this target group – small and medium sized family farmers – and to discourage a new advantage of an improved profit picture in agriculture.

5. Increase Our Export Earnings

For the past half-century, the world market price for storable commodities has effectively been established by U.S. federal price support loan levels. The U.S. remains the dominant force in the world agricultural export market with its share of the world’s corn export market exceeding 60% and its share of the world’s soybean export market exceeding 70%. Historical trends, current economic pressures and their own assurances indicate that, once U.S. crop prices are raised, our major export competitors would eagerly follow our lead and raise their prices as well. To avert any possibility that compteting exporters might attempt to boost their production and increase their market share at our expense, however, the Family Farm Act instructs the President to enter into multilateral negotiations with other food exporting nations to increase world market prices and maintain market shares.


Fig 2 Export earnings, FAPRI Staff Report 2-87, February 1987, ( ).

If an agreement has not been reached after nine months, the Secretary of Agriculture is mandated to use bonus commodities (or, of necessary, cash subsidies) to maintain U.S. exports. To implement the bonus program – the “export PIK hammer” – the Secretary would offer sufficient bonus commodities along with purchased U.S. commodities so that the aggregate per-unit price to our competitor’s intended customer would be low enough that we either win the sale or at least make it clear to our competitors that any price-cutting market raid would be unprofitable.

Economists at FAPRI, operating under the assumption that a multilateral agreement on trade will be reached, project that the value of U.S. exports of program commodities would increase by more than $10 billion during the first year of the Family Farm Act (to $20.6 billion) and would continue rising in subsequent years as prices improve (to $36.4 billion in 1995-96, the last year of the FAPRI projection).

In fact, the FAPI projections indicate that the export value under the Family Farm Act would 1) average over $12 billion more annually than under the so-called “export-oriented” 1985 farm bill and 2) average over $17 billion more annually than U.S. exports during the 1986/87 marketing year.

While our export volume of a few (but not all) of these commodities might drop off some initially due to the price increase, the total value generated by the higher per-unit returns more than offsets (by far) any decline in volume as well as value in subsequent years of the program.

6. Improve Farmer Efficiency

Recent farm programs have forced farmers to try to make up in increased volume what they denied in price, and government and agribusiness promotions have convinced farmers that “efficiency” means maximizing output per acre. The Family Farm Act, by specifying up-front the maximum volume each farmer will be authorized to sell at harvest, would immediately redefine efficiency. Rather than the one who maximizes his use of fertilizer and pesticides, the most efficient farmer would be the one who can produce his predetermined crop allotment while finding ways to minimize his input costs!

The bill would allow a local soil conservation committee to approve a farmer’s conservation plan under which he proposes to produce his quote by using more of his acres but reducing his per-acre yield by farming his land less intensively – a practice with both economic and environmental benefits.

7. Protect Farmers and Consumers from Disasters

The USDA would maintain a Farmer Disaster Reserve (FDR) initially composed of government-owned surplus commodities. In the event of a disaster, a producer would receive commodities from the FDR equivalent to 90% of his marketing certificate, minus the amount actually produced. The value of commodities received by a producer may not exceed $360,000 annually.

Once surplus stocks are reduced the government would puchase enough commodities to replenish the FDR to adequate levels. In most cases this would be done by purchasing commodities at half the price-support loan rate (or less) from farmers who have a good year and end up producing more than they expected or are authorized to sell under their marketing certificates.

8. Relieve the Farm Debt Crisis

Debt mediation and restructuring provisions in the Family Farm Act will enable many heavily-indebted producers to remain on their land until, with the improved commodity prices set by the bill, they can farm their way out of trouble.

Meanwhile, the improved profit picture in agriculture will reverse the downward spiral of land values, alleviating lender pressure on numerous producers whose plunging collateral value no longer provides adequate security to cover their indebtedness. Important effects would e: 1) to reduce or eliminate the need for annual $2-3 billion federal bail-outs of the Farm Credit System and 2) to restore the viability of much of the $30-50 billion in farm debt currently considered to be unrecoverable even through foreclosure, thereby forestalling the 1.5-2.5% increase in U.S. interest rates that writing off such debt would potentially cause.

9. Encourage Improved Conservation Practices

When they can afford it, American farmers are the best conservationists in the world. Price, peer pressure and a clear understanding of their own long-term self-interest demand it.

Unfortunately, current U.S. farm policies effectively force farmers to maximize their crop production with intensive use of fertilizer and other chemicals, much of which all too often runs off into nearby streams and rivers and leaches into the underground water supply. Because of deteriorating conditions in agriculture, many farmers are unable to invest in adequate soil erosion control projects.

In return for improved crop prices established by the family farm Act, farmers would agree to reduce their production to levels needed to fill actual projected demand and locally-approved conservation practices would be required on all land removed from production under the program.

Also, the crop volume they would be allowed to market would be based upon their past per-acre yield history. Thus, the bill would eliminate any incentive to increase yields with additional chemical use and, instead, would reward the efficient producer who can fill his production quota with the lowest possible input costs.

10. Stimulate Real Economic Growth in the U.S.

Economists estimate that every dollar of farm income adds from three to seven dollars to the overall economy as it percolates through the system. By the same token, every dollar of farm income lost costs the U.S. economy many times that amount.

New farm income generated by the Family farm Act will: 1) add tens of billions of dollars annually to our national economy; 2) restore prosperity to Mainstreets across America, creating new jobs not only in rural America but also in the farm equipment manufacturing sector; 3) generate billions of dollars in income taxes from farmers and rural merchants who have been losing money for years and 4) help defuse the rural debt bomb (an estimated $30-$50 billion in farm debt currently unrecoverable even through foreclosure) that threatens to force interest rates up 1.5%-2.5% and drag our already sluggish economy into a severe depression.

11. Attack Hunger at Home and Abroad

A portion of the government savings under the Family farm Act will be used to boost food stamps and other domestic hunger programs in order to shield low income Americans from the impact of any rise in retail food prices attributable to the program.

The bill instructs the President to seek agreements with other exporting nations to increase and coordinate food aid and famine relief outlays although not to the extent that these free or discounted commodities would undercut Third World farmers or discourage the development of underdeveloped nations.

And by raising world commodity prices the bill answers the pleas of numerous world hunger experts fo the U.S. and the European Community to stop the dumping of heavily subsidized commodities in the Third World, a practice which is bankrupting many Third World farmers who are unable to compete against these underpriced imports.

12. Protect the Health of U.S. Consumers

The Family Farm Act contains struct prohibitions against 1) importing food produced using any chemicals not allowed for sue by U.S. producers and 2) the importation of any food containing chemical residue levels exceeding the legal tolerances applicable to food produced in the U.S.

The bill also requires that any imported food (or food product containing one or more imported ingredients) be labeled as such to inform U.S. consumers.


Q. Under this bill won’t we price ourselves out of the world export markets?

A. The so called “market oriented” policy that we have in effect now is a disaster. We’ve lowered our prices to rock bottom level, disrupted farm economies around the world and we are still not seeing a significant increase in our exports. In the FAPRI projections of the ’85 farm ill (see fig. 3), our current market oriented farm policy does not significantly increase exports in terms of the number of bushels we export. The important factor is not the total number of bushels exported, but the total value of the exports (see fig. 2). Through 1996, the ’85 farm bill is only going to yield $137 billion worth of exports while the Harkin-Gephardt bill will bring in $248 billion over this same time period. What matters to farmers and to the economy as a whole is how much money is brought into the economy, not the amount exported.

Q. Won’t other countries undercut our prices?

A. Because the U.S. is such a dominant influence in the world market, raising our domestic prices would tend to raise world prices. Our share of the world export market exceeds 60% for corn, 70% for soybeans and 35% for wheat making us a tremendous influence in the world market.

A fundamentally new trade initiative was incorporated in the Family Farm Act. It directs the President to negotiate with other countries to establish multilateral agreements on orderly marketing procedures, world floor prices and shared production cutbacks. Many of the major traders are willing to do that. If, however, after nine months some of the major countries do not join in a multilateral agreement and attempt to take away our markets by undercutting our prices, the President is directed to implement a targeted export subsidy program. The program, called an export PIK hammer, is a lever to use on countries who refuse to negotiate using our tremendous surplus stocks as a hammer to bring the offending country to the table.

Q. Won’t this cause a trade war?

A. In essence, we have a trade war going on right now. As we have increased federal subsidies to our farmers and forced the price of their products downward, the other major exporters have responded in kind, increasing their subsidies enough to keep their export prices just below ours. Many countries feel that what we’ve got in the U.S. is a $25 billion export subsidy program in the form of target prices.[1] Under this bill, the U.S. would provide leadership to negotiate an orderly world marketing system and turn world trade policy in a positive direction.

export-vol-corn-soyFig. 3, Exports, FAPRI Staff Report #2-87, February 1987 ( ).

Q. Won’t these higher commodity prices be an incentive for other countries to increase production?

A. One of the major reasons developing countries like Brazil and Argentina have increased production and exports, is their demand for foreign exchange to service their debt load. As president Alphonsin of Argentina pointed out during the ’85 farm bill debate, as the United States forces down wold prices with its “market clearing” farm policy, Argentina will continue to bring more land into production, lower its p rices and export more to be able to meet its debt obligation. Higher world prices would relieve the pressure to produce more.

Consumers and Taxpayers

Q. How will taxpayer costs be reduced by the Family Farm Act?

A. The most important feature of the Act, compared to the 1985 farm bill, is the total elimination of all deficiency payments. It will eliminate direct subsidies by taxpayers saving $12-$15 billion each year. The Act ensures fair prices in the market place, not through the federal treasury. In addition, the Act calls for effective supply management provisions to eliminate costly surpluses.

Q. How will farm prices be raised without government subsidies?

A. the single most successful farm program of our nation has been the Commodity Credit Corporations (CCC) non-recourse loan program. By establishing a floor at 70% of parity using CCC loans, and then reducing supply with effective production controls, farm prices will be stabilized at cost-of-production levels. Because market prices will rise above the loan rate, farmers will not have to forfeit their grain to the government and costly surpluses will be eliminated.

Q. Won’t the price of food go up under this plan?

A. The direct impact of the act would be to raise food prices by about 5%. while the impact would be felt more strongly in the price of meat and dairy products, prices for bread, flours and other grain products would increase only slightly. For example, a $1.20 box of cornflakes would increase by only two cents while the price of corn more than doubled. Americans spend the lowest percentage of their disposable income on food of any nation in the world – roughly 15%. Many opinion surveys have, in fact, indicated that Americans would willingly pay a little extra for their food if they felt it would help family farmers.

It is important, however, that we maintain an active interest in the plight of those who, even at today’s food prices, are going hungry. The Family farm Act calls on Congress to restore deep cuts made by President Reagan in the food stamp, Women Infants and Children (WIC) and other nutrition programs. By restoring prosperity to Agriculture, we will restore economic vitality to other sectors of the economy, thereby taking concrete steps towards eliminating poverty – the real cause of hunger.

cpi-foodFig. 4, Food prices, FAPRI Staff Report #2-87, February 1987 ( ).


Q. How would te Family Farm Act affect livestock producers?

A. Since livestock production has historically been at the heart of the family farm system in this country, the farmers who constructed the Family farm Act have always shared a deep concern for the needs of the livestock industry. Dairy farmers are well protected by the dairy program in the bill which FAPRI projects would lead to significant increases in net dairy income.

For real meat producers, the underlying assumption of the Family Farm Act that is born out by the historical charts and the gut instincts of every experienced producer: cheap corn means cheap hogs and cattle. According to historical patterns, if feed grain prices are stabilized at higher levels, we can expect red meat prices to adjust and stabilize on a higher plateau.

Indeed, FAPRI projections show that after the first two years of the program hog and cattle prices would reach increasingly higher levels over the next eight years compared to the current program.

The concern is over the transition period of two to three years during which the liquidation of some corporate feedlots, no longer able to compete without subsidized cheap grain, and the slaughter of dairy cattle would pressure red meat prices. For this reason a livestock transition program in the bill would allow family sized farmers to purchase up to $50,000 worth of CCC feed grains at a subsidized cost for the first three years of the program.

In addition, the National Save the Family Farm Coalition is developing a companion bill to the Family Farm Act which would enact a variable levy on livestock and red meat imports to bolster prices during the transition period.

The important point is that the transition would be toward a greatly restructured livestock industry. The trend toward corporate domination of livestock production would be reversed as corporate feedlots, denied their cheap grain subsidy, would give way to an industry made up of more family feeders. Cattle feeding would return to the Midwest, and the growth of corporate “hog factories” would end.

Economists at Texas A & M have stated that the higher grain prices of the Family Farm Act would be the single greatest factor in reversing the displacement of red meat consumption by poultry. With 60% of poultry production costs in feed expenses, cheap grain gives poultry a cost advantage that will cripple the red meat industry if not reversed.

The Family Farm Act would improve the competitiveness of ruminants like cattle and increase the importance of grass-fed beef. The result would be an increased value of range and pastureland and a reversal of the increasing practice of plowing up highly erodible land.

The Opposition

The strength of a great idea can sometimes be measured best by the opposition it generates from those with power. The Family Farm Act has stirred up a hornet’s nest in Washington among Administration supporters, the corporate agriculture elite and the American Farm Bureau Federation and its allies.[2] According to the American Agriculture Movement, the revolving doors between the USDA and corporate agribusiness have led to the development of the “Coalition for a Better Farm Policy” to help kill the Family Farm Act.

Former Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Economics, Richard Lesher, left USDA to farm his own consulting company, which has a proposal afloat to defeat a supply management farm bill. The “coalition” would be comprised of various farm and commodity groups as well as agribusiness giants like Cargill, who jointly contribute a quarter of a million dollars to help defeat the bill. Before forming Lesher and associates and serving USDA, Lesher was associated with Secretary of Agriculture Richard Lyng in a similar private consulting firm. Sound familiar?

Farm Bureau economists are also worried about the bill, and are rushing to counter the positive findings of the Texas A & M and FAPRI studies. In a February memo, the Bureau concluded that “More realistic economic assumptions would make the 1984 farm bill look more favorable when compared to the Harkin bill.” Such “tough” analysis by Bureau economists (??) is typical of the weak and unsubstantiated claims of these opponents to a bill that poses a threat not to family farmers, but to the economic self-interest of those that most benefit from federal policy as it now stands.

Farmers and ranchers don’t ave to develop “more realistic economic assumptions” to analyze their disastrous situation today. WE only have to look at our cash flow and empty neighborhoods to realize that the ’85 farm bill is a disaster. And to win the fight for The Family Farm Act we also have to be aware that some of the organizations we belong to and some of the businesses that we buy from are out to do us in. It’s time to put a stop to that way of doing business. It’s time to stop feeding the hand that bites us, and to start working for a federal farm policy geared to family farm agriculture!

Full Compliance

Q. Isn’t it unfair to enact a mandatory program?

A. No. What’s really unfair to farmers is the endless successions of farm programs that have set commodity prices below farmers production costs. Mandatory participation in the programs won’t take place unless there is a majority vote by producers of each commodity in a national referendum. The program is actually more democratic because producers will have a chance to vote on it. (That’s more than you can say about the ’85 farm bill.) Even though the current program is called “voluntary,” every farmer knows he or she has little choice about participating. If we’re going to have a federal farm program, we might as well have one that guarantees a fair price to the producer.


The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI), a joint project of the University of Missouri and Iowa state University, is the most respected “think tank” in the country for farm program analysis. In 1987 they completed a comprehensive computer analysis of the Family Farm Act wich provides the most reliable projections to date. Here are the facts:

Compared to current legislation, the Family Farm Act would:

• Generate on average from 1988 through 1995 over $21 billion more in net farm income annually. This is an average of $46.7 billion a year as compared to an average net farm income of $24.4 billion annually projected under the current program.

• Cost the government, on average, $14.4 billion less annually for these commodity programs than we spent in fiscal 1986;

• generate, on average, $12 billion more in export earnings annually; and

• increase the U.S. inflation rate, on average for 1988 through 1995, by less than a quarter of a percent; and

• increase food costs to consumers, on average, by only 1.6% more annually than current legislation.

Intensive pressure from corporate donors and opposition politicians has forced FAPI economists to at times present a distorted picture of the results of this study. Don’t let them fool you – look at the data. No farm bill alternative meets the goals of effective farm legislation like the Family Farm Act.

Gov Costs 88 95Fig. 5, Government cost, FAPRI Staff Report #2-87, February 1987 ( ).

SOURCE: National Save the Family Farm Coalition


[1.] It is important that readers are clear on the price and subsidy issue. Subsidies do not cause the cheap prices in any practically significant way. ( ) The failure of ‘free’ markets to self-correct well on either the supply or the demand side causes the cheap prices. ( ; ) Price Floor programs fix that when they are adequate. Price Floor programs were lowered, more and more, starting in 1953, and they were ended in 1996 for most crops. Subsidies were started in 1961 for feedgrains (including corn) and wheat, in 1964 for cotton, in 1977 for rice, and in 1998 for soybeans. (Agriculture Fact Book 1994, Appendix Table A-3, p. 174, “Direct Government payments, by program, 1950-92.”) Prior to these dates (and after 1942) there were no subsidies. There is, therefore, zero correlation between the lowering of prices, (by lowering price floors, starting in 1953,) and the paying of subsidies (prior to these dates,) as there were no subsidies. Though there are correlations after these dates, (i.e. starting in 1977 for rice,) they are correlations but not causations. Additionally, subsidies have never come close to making up for the full amount by which prices were politically lowered, (by which the market failed, thus resulting in lower prices).

[2.] This section on farm politics may be confusing to some. Some groups claim to represent “agriculture” or “farmers,” and have farmers as members, and have similar names, but do not support fair market prices to keep farmers in business, and to keep ownership of livestock widely dispersed on farms, (instead of owned by a few giant corporations, as in the case of pork and poultry). These groups include the American Farm Bureau Federation and the big “commodity groups,” such as the National Corn Growers Association, (which does not support fair prices for corn). ( ) The American Corn Growers Association is an exception, and was strongly supportive of the Family Farm Act.

[3.]  LIVESTOCK: I need to add another piece covering the livestock issues. I actually have dozens of additional data charts that show many additional findings in today’s dollars. Here are important quotes about the implications for LIVESTOCK systems and sustainability/environment/ climate.

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

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

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

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

“… provisions of the parity program allow qualifying livestock producers to purchase up to $50,000 worth of grain at prices far below parity prices through 1990. Consequently, low volume livestock producers benefit relative to large producers.”


See this video on the Family Farm Act of 1987: . . .


League of Rural Voters, (IATP), “Beyond the Crisis: Solutions for Rural America,” .

League of Rural Voters, “America’s Stake in the 1985 Farm Bill,” .

IATP, NSFFC, “Save the Family Farm Act Discussion,” .

U.S. Strategy for Global Food Sovereignty



Time has passed without the implementation of the strategy set out below, (and without any campaign following the timeline set out in Chart 5).  My interpretation of the stunning Trump/Republican victory is that the rural vote was an important part of his success, and that vote represented, in part, a context of chronic rural trauma.  In my view, this rural context is one of economic trauma leading to social trauma leading to the desire to throw a metaphorical brick through the glass windows inside-the-beltway in Washington D.C.  (See references to these interpretations at the bottom.)

Two and three decades ago the Family Farm (Farm Justice) Movement had major programs to address both the economic and social traumas of the past 60 years of U.S. rural history, and these strategies were quite successful against the kinds of far right groups that have been attracted to Trump.

Politically, the farm justices strategy has always been a powerful tool against conservative ideologies, as it has emphasized the economics that are key to the dominant narrative that we are fighting.  We’ve alway had a much cheaper farm bill than the conservatives, and one which makes much more money for the United States.  Their narrative, then, is one of chronic failure, chronic incompetence.

Trump’s win will lead to major activity on a new farm bill by 2017, which is just a month away as I write.  That will be an enormous strategic opportunity to bring forth voices to tell the story of conservative failure and incompetence, (especially to voters in rural regions,) but only if we can quickly teach this alternative farm-side strategy to urban and rural U.S. social movements working on food and farm issues.

The U.S.-global strategy for  Food Sovereignty outlined below explains major aspects of the kinds of responses that are needed in response to the Trump victory.

Prior to posting here online the title was:

Strategy for US Food Sovereignty

(Note:  This explains charts that I prepared for [but didn’t use at,] the “Strategic Dialogue” meeting [US Food Sovereignty Alliance, National Family Farm Coalition, visitors from other countries,] on the day of the 2014 Food Sovereignty Prize, In Des Moines Iowa, [10/15/14].  While my initial purpose was to speak to strategy, I now also see this as an overall assessment of US efforts on these issues, with the US Food Sovereignty Alliance as the primary audience.  The views here originate within the Family Farm Movement sector.)



Here in the US, we have huge contributions to make to global food sovereignty, especially out of our family farm movement, which has prioritized US farm justice issues, especially the farm bill, for 6 decades.  This has huge global implications, since the US is the dominant farm commodity exporter and price setter.

This is the macro side of food sovereignty, as opposed to the local side.  For food sovereignty we need governments to manage national, regional and global markets, for fair prices (floors and ceilings,) and to address both overproduction and the risk of shortages.

The biggest places where changes are needed are the US Farm Bill and trade agreements, (which also relate to US and other farm bills and programs).



30 YEARS AGO our whole US farm and food movement was primarily a movement of US “Family Farm” activists, plus some allies, (i.e. churches, labor, other rural people).  It was a much larger movement than our subsector(s) has (have) today.  Other kinds of activists, such as food and hunger activists that didn’t really understand or join our movement (i.e. like Frances Moore Lappe and Food First,) were, collectively, a very small sector (or sectors,) at least on issues like export dumping as affected by the Farm Bill.

TODAY our movement has shrunk, with the loss of many groups and alliances, and a smaller surviving National Family Farm Coalition in which many member groups don’t really understand these issues.  Compared to past decades, National Farmers Organization and National Farmers Union have been much less involved, though NFU recently rejoined the efforts, with the Market Driven Inventory System.  Mainline churches are usually not allies, and seem to have forgotten about the earlier period of working with us, with an occasional exception like the Presbyterian Church USA, which has had mixed information, some against dumping and some unknowingly for dumping.

Even NFFC’s closest new allies often show misunderstandings of the macro side of food sovereignty.  For example, in recent years I’ve found a number of items on the web sites of groups like Why Hunger, Food First, Pesticide Action Network that (unknowingly) support agribuisness exploiters against the farmers being dumped upon.  Usually these are misunderstandings of the US farm bill related to farm subsidies, or rather, an overall false paradigm of the farm bill and related matters that prevents the issue from being understood, even when correct information is shared.

Meanwhile, as I show with the large “Other” circle, we now have the large, urban-side “Food Movement” that we’ve long called for.  The question of whether or not it’s a mile wide and an inch deep is a separate matter.  It’s potential, at least at the moment, is huge.

Unfortunately, this movement is even worse at understanding export dumping issues, usually having (virtually) no correct information about which policies are bad and which are good on their web sites.  Overwhelmingly, they advocate (unknowingly) FOR dumping, for agribusiness exploiters and against US and global farmer victims, directly against their own values and goals, and ours.

We see then that the Family Farm Movement has shrunk drastically in size (large circle to small circle).  It’s also shrunk drastically in status.

I’ve also tried to illustrate two family farm subsectors.  The Sustainable (Family Farm) Agriculture Movement is a fairly new player that’s being noticed.  It is a movement sector that arose and split away from the Family Farm Movement during the 1990s.  The Sustainable Agriculture Movement’s only work on the big “farm justice” issues of the farm bill and trade has usually been limited to subsidy caps, so the result has been support for export dumping and against the macro side of food sovereignty.  Otherwise, they do great work on sustainability issues, and represent one of the most significant innovations in the Family Farm paradigm in our history.

The sustainable agriculture sector directly represents a very small fraction of farmers, which are themselves a small fraction of US population.  On the other hand, it’s received strong support from academics and scientists who represent a post mega-industrial paradigm, (and from foundations).

Family Farm Activists are hard to find these days, and represent a tiny fraction of the whole (farm and) Food Movement of today.  Surviving “family farm” organizations, even the best ones from history, sometimes did little or no work on the biggest of these issues for the 2008 and/or 2014 farm bills, and work on trade issues is also greatly reduced.

A second tiny subsector on the chart is dairy.  Dairy farmers are a very small fraction of farmers, and dairy farm justice activists are very few in number, (plus it’s hard for them to get away from their work).

I’ll refer to these two tiny subsets of farmers (dairy and sustainable agriculture,) farther below, as they powerfully illustrate my thesis regarding food sovereignty strategy from the US to the world.



Our very small group (today) that accurately works on the macro side of food sovereignty works directly on the biggest issues, “US & global Market Management,” or what I call “Farm Justice.”

In contrast, with regards to policy, the much much larger category of “Others” who share our values, especially the Food Movement, works on the much smaller category of US issues involving farm bill spending, (and then state and local issues,) with little or no impact on Food Sovereignty beyond our borders.  Worse, they misunderstand the farm subsidy part of farm bill spending, (which is mistakenly thought to have large global implications).  On the chart, this is in pink, and fairly big, to illustrate that they advocate on the wrong side, (in favor of agribusiness exploiters and against the US and global farmer victims).  This is, again, unintentional, and directly contrary to their values and goals.



Ok, what are these specific issues?  These, (our tiny subsector’s issues, the biggest issues,) start with managment of whole US and global markets.  Most directly, these are the biggest issues of US and global distributive economic justice, (or farm justice).  In the long haul, these are multitrillion dollar issues, and that doesn’t even count the impact on economic multipliers throughout these rural economies.

This starts with fair prices such as “fair trade,” “living wage” or parity prices, in programs that limit production, for example, by limiting the number of acres farmed.

Globally, these programs, especially when supported by trade agreements, stop most volatility and speculation.  In terms of progressive values on lists of “political correctness,” they address (for the US & globally,) the needs of the “disadvantaged,” such as women and groups that are racial minorities here.  They also largely determine the conventional prices affecting premiums for local, organic, and fair trade production

Fair farm prices then work in the opposite direction of the cheap grain that has given huge below cost gains to CAFOs, as surviving US farmers have lost livestock and 4 corporations have come to own 66% of hogs, for example.  In losing livestock, farmers have lost the economic use of alfalfa and clover, the most powerful crops in crop rotations, and pastures, for example on a farm’s most hilly or flood prone land, have usually gone away.

In contrast to these sustainable impacts for markets as a whole, farmers as a whole, both in the US and globally, the large circle of “Others” on the chart such as the Sustainable Food Movement, focus on the much smaller sub category of US spending issues related to sustainability, such as those that usually affect a relatively tiny number of farmers, for example, moving towards organic level standards of farming, or those selling locally.

We see, then, that, while “family farm” (farm justice) values are usually seen as a kind of low grade progressivism (for the self interests of smaller sized and somewhat differently structured, farms that are usually “industrial,” not organic,) they really have the biggest impacts of all on the highest priority progressive values.  This understanding shows up virtually nowhere in the dominant farm and food paradigms of today, including our own paradigm.  Almost no one really seems to “see” that the assumedly low-grade “family farm” values, (the values that, [virtually alone,] start with US and global distributive economic justice,) deserve virtually our top priority rankings.

(Note that CAFOs feed grain, not hay, and anyway, for organic systems, it’s best not to sell the stems, [hay and straw,] as opposed to the seeds (i.e. grain).


(Note:  Some have suggested skipping this section, as they find it hard to understand.  It can be skipped without hurting the other sections.  It is especially relevant to political strategy.  See sources related to this alternative paradigm of human values at the bottom.)


This chart introduces a new general paradigm for human values, in which the “family farm” (farm justice) paradigm is shown to overcome the limitations of both “industrial” and progressive values.  I’ve pulled out this chart for further development, at the suggestion of another farmer.  Contact me if you want more information.  It’s based upon the work of Charles Hampen-Turner.



The timeline at the top of this chart refers to the strategy diagrams at the bottom.  The strategy is for our small movement sector(s) to teach the well meaning but misguided “Others,” such as the “Sustainable Agriculture,” the “Food” and the “Hunger” Movement sectors about US and global farm justice, as a paradigm and in terms of specific proposals, (Food from Family Farms Act, Market Driven Inventory System, and related trade issues).  They already share our values and goals, and they are already working on farm bill issues, and yet their advocacy, (like some of our own,) is almost always reversed, in support of export dumping, and the hunger and lack of sustainability that arises from those kinds of support for agribusiness.  So this must surely be our top priority.

For two farm billls, (2008 and 2014,) at least, we haven’t accomplished this, and perhaps we haven’t had a serious strategy to do so.  Clearly, the “moment” has been here during the 2008 and 2014 work.  We might have had a new “populist moment.”  Instead we may have lost the entire moment, the entire possibility.

Let’s hope not.

To now, finally, implement such a strategy, timing is critical.  As shown on the chart, which is a “next farm bill” timeline, there are two years for doing such a strategy, 2014 and 2015, and it’s already mid October of 2014!  During these two years we need to contact and then train the larger progressive food, hunger and sustainability movement.

In later years, then, 2016, 2017 and 2018, they can incorporate it into their web sites, reports, videos and other materials.  They need to also remove the false materials, those which support dumping by agribusiness exploiters, and which falsely blame farmer victims.

The end goal is shown in the green circle.  There we leverage our whole movement, a huge movement, working for, (not mostly against,) the best values on the biggest (but least known) issues.

Here I’ve also again included the tiny subsectors of dairy farmers and sustainable agriculture farmers.  Dairy farmers have been having the most acute US farm crisis, as three of the biggest names in the farm bill, (corn, soybeans, rice,) have been having a rare period of much better prices, (above zero vs full costs over seven years).  Dairy has been the canary in the mine of the farm bill, illustrating how bad the new farm bill is, (as we’re now seeing with a return to extremely low prices for the other corn and soybeans, for example).  The opportunity has been there through the 2008 and 2014 periods of farm bill work, but no such strategy seems to have been implemented.  We missed these moments for fixing dairy while simultaneously educating the greater movement.  Instead our strategy seems to have been primarily to mobilize the tiny group of dairy farmers themselves, as illustrated on the chart, to really give Congress a talking to.

We can then contrast this with the other tiny subsector of farmers, sustainable agriculture.  In this case, however, they’ve successfully leveraged the huge Food (environmental, public health, etc., etc.,) Movement to advocate on their issues.  They represent an excellent model for study.  Another group, especially severely neglected over the decades, is the work of the Rural Coalition.  I think that their issues have also been widely included in the larger movement’s food conferences, books, list sharing, etc. in recent years.  I’ve seen this at conferences in Oakland, New York City, Des Moines, and Minneapolis.  At the same time, they and some of their groups apparently haven’t managed to do much work recently on the larger US and global issues of farm bill farm justice.



As I understand it, La Via Campesina represents something like 200 million to 300 million peasants and other family farmers world wide.  On the other hand, few of these farmers and farm advocates can vote inside of the United States.  They rely on us, on our tiny subsector of US activism, and on the quality of our strategies, and the timing of their implementation.  The concluding assessment is clear from the various charts.  In recent years, such as over the 2008 and 2014 periods, we’ve failed.  We really haven’t done much of anything to support them on the biggest global (& US) issues of the farm bill, (farm justice,) and related trade issues.  Our web sites often contain material that leads people to support export dumping in the interests of the largest and most exploitative agribusiness firms.  We’ve allowed ourselves to be marginalized within the greater US Food and Farm Movement of today, as if our values were low-grade, and unimportant.  Our leaders hardly ever mention the specific proposals of farm justice that are needed by the farmers of La Via Campesina.

On the other side, there are clear strategies for fixing this.



(NOTE:  I plan to add references in the future.)


Brad Wilson, “Via Campesina with NFFC: Support for Fair Farm Prices,” Brad Wilson at ZSpace, 9/16/10, .

Brad Wilson, “WTO Africa Group with NFFC, Not EWG,” Brad Wilson at ZSpace, 4/1/11, .

Brad Wilson, “Food Sovereignty as Government Intervention,” Brad Wilson at ZSpace, 9/22/15, .

Brad Wilson, “Food Crisis PRIMER,” Brad Wilson at ZSpace, 8/9/14,

Brad Wilson, “False on the Food Poverty Crisis: 25 Online Examples,” Brad Wilson at ZSpace, 4/18/11, .

Brad Wilson, “Unique US Role in Fixing the LDC Food Poverty Crisis,” Brad Wilson at ZSpace, 2/21/16, .


Brad Wilson, “Farm Justice PRIMER: A Farm Bill Primer,” Brad Wilson at ZSpace, 8/3/14, .

Brad Wilson, “PRIMER: Farm Justice Proposals for the 2012 Farm Bill,” (or “for the 2014 Farm Bill,”) Brad Wilson at ZSpace, 5/11/12, .

Brad Wilson, “Fact Sheet: Farm Justice Proposals for the 2012 Farm Bill,” Brad Wilson at ZSpace, 5/11/12, .

Brad Wilson, “Brad Wilson’s Farm Bill Proposal,” Brad Wilson at ZSpace, 2/29/16, .


Siena Christian, “Want to Understand Trump’s Rise? Head to the Farm,” Civil Eats, 10/27/16, .

Brad Wilson, “Election, Rural Vote, Donald Trump: Why and What We Need to Do,” Family Farm Justice, 11/12/16, .

Brad Wilson, “Rural Trump Vote:  Who’s Behind the Trauma?” Brad Wilson at Facebook, (public) Notes, 11/16/16, .

Brad Wilson, “The Election as Moby Dick: The Failure of Starbucks against Captain Ahab,” Brad Wilson at Facebook, Notes, (public,) 11/23/16,


Charles Hampden Turner, “The Lethal Structure of Morality: Charles Osgood to Charles Hampden-Turner,” Map 43, pp. 152-154, in Maps of the Mind, Collier Books, 1981.

Charles Hampden Turner, “The Cybernetics of Mental Health· Charles Hampden-Turner,” Map 51, pp. 178-181, in Maps of the Mind, Collier Books, 1981.

Charles Hampden-Turner, “How Value is Created:  Two Forms of Choice,” ch. 1 in Charting the Corporate Mind, The Free Press, 1990.

Charles Hampden-Turner, “A Theoretical Appendix” in Sane Asylum, New York:  William Morrow, 1977.

Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompanaars, Building Cross Cultural Competence:  How to Create Wealth from Conflicting Values, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

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


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.


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.


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, ( ; ) for 150 years and on into the 21st century. These markets “lack price responsiveness” ( ) “on both the supply and the demand side for aggregate agriculture” ( ).

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, , against profit, (see charts here,) against wealth creation. (John Ikerd, )

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. ( ; ) 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? ( )

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, ), 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!)


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.”


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.

Behind this is not knowing ‘what’ a Farm Bill is.


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.


Siena Chrisman, “Want to Understand Trump’s Rise? Head to the Farm,” Civil Eats, 10/27/16

Iowa Farm Activist, (Brad Wilson,) “Siena Chrisman on Trump and Agriculture,” Daily Kos, 10/31/16, .

Brad Wilson, “Rural Trump Vote: Who’s Behind the Trauma?” Brad Wilson on Facebook, Photo Album, .

“Faith Statements on Farm Justice,” (from PrairieFire Rural Action for National Council of Churches of Christ,) (FaceBook, public,) .  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, .

Joel Dyer, “The New Harvest of Rage,” Boulder Weekly, 10/27/16, .

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.)

The ‘Feed the World’ Debate: 2 Reviews

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



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, .

At the bottom I’ve added a review of: Alan Guebert, “Guebert: We feed the world is ‘not a harmless myth,’” The Pantagraph, .  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.


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.


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).


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: ; 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,” )

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 ( ).

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 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.


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). ( )

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. ]).

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.


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 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. ( )

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.–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: )

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.


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.


On the chronic failure of ‘free’ farm markets (conservative/neoliberal economic assumptions,) see the “Why We Have Farm Bills” in

On Alan Guebert’s misunderstandings of the basic farm issues see:

Expert Agroecology Report: A Farm Justice Critique


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.


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” ( ) and “farm” ( ) 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.


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.


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. )

[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 ( ).

[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 ( ).

[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.


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. ( ) 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, ( ) 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” ( ) contribution to make, beyond that which African farmers and European farmers, for example, could make, (though African [ ] and European [ ] leaders have also supported these kinds of changes, as has the global farmer organization La Via Campesina [ ]).

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.


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.


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: )

Flawed Genius: Milestones of a Food Movement Since 2000


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, ), 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.”


[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: 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, ( ) 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.” ( (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.


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: ), 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, [ ] or the Market Driven Inventory System of the National Farmers Union [ ]). 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, ( ), and therefore what needs changing. We’ve been “Divided and Conquered,” (scroll down to that heading here: ) by the SUBSIDY MYTH ( ), as the evidence clearly shows (cf. “four proofs:” ). 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 ( ) ( ). 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. ( ) 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,” ( ). (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. I find the same with the Good Food Timeline at Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems.( ) 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 ]).

[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” ), as well as my older posts on the topic, ( ) ( ) including this one in relation to the “National Food Policy” ( ).

[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: ).

[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 [ ]).

[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.