Rethinking U.S. Agricultural Policy
Bill Christison is the president of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC). He gave this speech to the Press Club in Washington, D.C. on the publication of the study "Rethinking U.S. Agricultural Policy: Changing Course to Secure Farmer Livelihoods Worldwide" (published September 2003 by Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee). Click here to read the Executive Summary of the study.
The Bush Administration and the Congressional majoritys approach to farm policy drives down farmers prices and allows the grain-traders to purchase grains for rock-bottom prices. As a result of U.S. farm policy and trade policy, the average prices of the eight largest U.S. crops from 1999-2002 was 20% below the average price for the 1985-1995 period. This failed cheap grain approach lines the pockets of corporate agribusiness and their investors while bankrupting producers and the communities who depend on them.
Current cheap grain farm policy also fuels corporate concentration in the livestock industry and factory farm expansion. As corporate concentration increases, the number of family farmers decreases while at the same time consumer prices go up. In the past 10 years, 142,710 hog producers have gone out of business. High prices have gone down 24.4%, while the retail price has climbed by 35%. Six hog corporations control of pork has increased more than 300%.
Our cheap grain policy also fuels the profits of grain exporters. 82% of U.S. corn exports and 65% of U.S. soybean exports are controlled by three agribusiness firms. During the first seven years of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), Archer Daniels Midlands (ADM) profits went from $110 million to $301 million, while Cargills net earnings, from 1998 to 2002, jumped from $468 million to $827 million. ADM and Cargill are two of the main agribusinesses that control the corn trade.
The current farm and trade model has failed family farmers and ranchers and has helped fuel the economic devastation of rural America. We need a farm bill that pays farmers a fair price, creates a farmer-owned reserve, curtails corporate concentration, and provides incentives for the enhancement of local food system. Thats a plan that family farmers and rural communities can get excited about.
Continuing to lower U.S. prices to supposedly compete with farmers in other countries is like saying whoever goes broke first is the winner. U.S. farm policy has been the driver in this race to the bottom. The multinational grain traders will be the winner. Farmers, rural communities, and consumers will be paying the price.
The important report being announced here today truly points out that as important as trade is, when compared with the domestic market future expansion of consumption is most likely to come from the domestic side.
A few things we need to remember. The Chicago Board of Trade sets the worlds price. A large majority of U.S. consumers want their food produced by the family farm system of agriculture.
Farmers and consumers are concerned about the environment. Our many trade schemes have hurt much more than they have helped on both sides of the border. Subsidies are necessary, but only until we change farm policy in the U.S. What the family farmers of the world need most is food sovereignty and implementation of the National Family Farm Coalitions Food from the Family Farm Act.
Certainly, the dumping of agricultural products has little correlation to subsidies, but rather excess production is the result of producing below the cost of production and the will of the farmer to try and survive.
The last thing the third world countries need is our bad technologies, the WTO, and excess production.
This research and documentation by Dr. Darrell Ray and associates deserve to be thoroughly reviewed and acted upon by the administration and Congress.
Published in In Motion Magazine October 5, 2003
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