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Farm Bill Dupes Farmers
To Fatten Corporate Profits

Missouri Rural Crisis Center's View of Federal Farm Bill (1996)

by Rhonda Perry,
Columbia, Missouri

Grain being loaded for shipment overseas. Port of Galveston, Texas.  Photo by Nic Paget-ClarkeThe new farm bill signed on April 4 by President Clinton, is touted as historic and a major reform by its proponents. But this bill, formally titled "Federal Agricultural Improvement Reform Act of 1996" (inappropriately acronymed FAIR) appears to be fair only for corporate America and not for family farmers or consumers.

The commodity title sets the stage for expanding corporate profits and reducing support for family farmers by severing the relationship between production and farm programs. The farm bill provides fixed, declining payments to farmers over the next seven years based on a farm's payment levels over the last five years. It is not tied in any way to production.

Without effective policies to ensure a good supply management program, an adequate grain reserve and fair prices, there will be fewer farmers, less sustainable production, and more corporate concentration of agriculture.

While the commodity title may contain short-term conservation improvements, it will ultimately lead to environmental setbacks. Complete flexibility coupled with no supply management plan results in increased pressure on farmers to seed land previously placed in conservation programs (CRP). Increased production will ultimately lead to low prices. Sound familiar? In the '80s, these policies led farmers to plant fencerow-to-fencerow in order to try to make up in volume what they had lost in low market prices.

Bill Christison, MRCC (Missouri Rural Crisis Center) president, states, "This farm bill was contrived by international grain traders, food processors, and vertical integrators, and was steered through Congress by the same law makers who fathered the Contract with America."

The credit title essentially repeals important provisions established in the 1987 Agricultural Credit Act which gave due process to family farmers and the least-cost alternative to taxpayers. The new law says any farmer who has received any government assistance in the way of compromise of debt for whatever reason or time frame, is no longer eligible for disaster assistance. This is gross discrimination and eliminates yet another safety net.

Texas A & M's analysis of the new farm bill suggests four out of ten family farmers will restructure their debt before this bill expires.

As a result of public outcry, an amendment was attached to the budget bill which allowed for farmers who had a completed application in by April 4 and were not more than 90 days delinquent, to continue the loan application process for operating or emergency loans but did not include farm operating loans. Thanks to MRCC members and the National Family Farm Coalition for making the phone calls and writing the letters that helped halt the retroactive and unfair implementation.

These credit provisions are an obvious infringement on farmers' right to due process. Farmers who entered into an agreement with the federal government that was mutually beneficial for taxpayers and farmers, are now being penalized.

We can work together to make sure this is a short-lived farm bill which will be replaced by one that allows family farmers cost of production plus a reasonable profit and will provide consumers a sane, adequate, reasonably priced food supply.

Published in In Motion Magazine - June 26, 1996