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What a Good President Would Do --
That Would Really Help Family Farmers

by Darvin Bentlage, Barton County, Missouri
 Garry Klicker, Davis County, Iowa
 Darwyn Bach, Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota

We are bitterly disappointed by the lack of leadership President Obama and the White House have demonstrated regarding America’s farm families and rural communities.  Major case in point -- a proposed rule to increase competition in the livestock industry has been delayed under this President for almost two years. 
As family farmers, we see the trends in agriculture, aided by federal policy, that have led us to greater concentration and consolidation in many sectors of the industry.  Whether it’s corporate livestock operations, massive cropping operations with tens of thousands of acres, undue influence of corporate agribusiness lobbyists, or what amounts to monopolies in meatpacking and food processing -- these trends are not good for rural economies or our country.
Who has benefited from these trends?  While huge meatpackers and food processors frequently report massive profits, family farm livestock producers ride a rollercoaster of prices that are poor more often than good. Our nation has lost hundreds of thousands of livestock farmers.  With the loss of those thousands of farming operations, went thousands of additional good rural jobs that were dependent upon them.  Farmers’ share of the retail dollar has drastically decreased, and consumers haven’t won either as food prices continue to increase. 
A good President would work to promote a path that provides for more families producing the food and fiber of our nation and sharing in the wealth generated from agriculture.  If there isn’t leadership, we’ll have fewer people in agriculture and more people on the brink of economic disaster.  We need good jobs that sustain people, farm families and a thriving middle class.
The President has failed to issue real reforms that would establish fair rules in the marketplace in the buying and selling of livestock between meatpackers and family farmers. 
In the face of extreme corporate concentration, this lack of government action on the behalf of family farmers just means more of what we’ve got: massive consolidation, fewer choices and opportunities, and secret agreements between packers and their favored livestock suppliers.  That leaves the bulk of American livestock producers out in the cold, raising and selling livestock for terms, conditions, and prices that do not keep pace.
Before taking office, President Obama told the American people he would "Prevent Anticompetitive Behavior against Family Farms" and enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921, yet that commitment has been all but forgotten. In the last Farm Bill, Congress instructed USDA to clarify that Act to prevent undue preferences being given by corporate meatpackers in buying livestock -- in other words establish a fair marketing rule.  A proposed rule was released over a year ago and more than 60,000 comments were submitted, with the vast majority in favor.  However, the rule is apparently now being blocked by the White House. 
And this isn’t the only thing the Obama White House promised and hasn’t delivered on.  The President said he would expand conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program, and instead has proposed major cuts in his past two budgets.  He said he would limit taxpayer dollars from going to (CAFOs) Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations through programs like EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), but that hasn’t been stopped.  And he said he would close commodity program loopholes that have enabled mega crop farms to get around the limits, but that hasn’t happened either.  The lack of political will to issue the livestock marketing rule is simply the latest case in a series of broken promises.
What would a good President do?
  • Do what he said he would do. Not just proposals -- but real results.
  • Issue strong and fair livestock marketing rules, on behalf of the people, not of corporations. And --

  • The President should say: “We will have open, fair and competitive livestock markets.  A healthy functioning marketplace provides the foundation for good jobs and opportunities in agriculture. There is no place for price manipulation, discrimination, or collusion in agriculture or any other industry. Farmers, big or small, should be given a fair shot at getting the best price they can for the fruits of their labor.”

We need a good President in these times. The steps forward are clear.
Darvin Bentlage
Livestock Producer
Barton County, Missouri
Garry Klicker
Livestock Producer
Davis County, Iowa
Darwyn Bach
Livestock Producer
Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota
This article was produced in support of The Campaign for Family Farms and The Environment (CFFE). CFFE is a multi-state coalition made up of: the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and The Land Stewardship Project (MN). CFFE represents thousands of independent livestock producers and a total of nearly 10,000 farm and rural member families.

Published in In Motion Magazine October 22, 2011.

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