Farm Bill should support small and medium farmers, not corporations

Most of you have seen recent stories about European farmers organizing for better prices by blocking highways and business districts with their tractors. Older farmers may remember the 1979 Tractorcade, in which American farmers demanded “parity,” which meant farmers should be paid the cost of production (what it costs to grow a crop) plus a living wage.

That 1979 protest drew attention to the problem but did little to alleviate it. What followed was the 1980s farm crisis, which culminated in 1985, known as “the year of farm bankruptcies.” Subsequent Farm Bills did little to protect farmers’ ability to earn a living wage and simply exist, as they left behind the last remaining vestige of supply management programs, leaving farmers at the mercy of volatile commodity markets and years of low prices.

Farm Bills from the 1980s to the present have in many ways failed to stabilize commodity markets and have forced taxpayers to bear the costs with safety net programs that benefited farms, factory farms and the processing industries. Lobbyists wrote these Farm Bills to protect and strengthen the interests of their clients, multinational corporations.

The recent release of the 2022 Census of Agriculture (released every five years) revealed the negative impact of poor farm laws. For the first time in history, the US has fewer than 2 million farms. The US lost more than 140,000 farms and more than 150,000 livestock operations between 2018 and 2022. Missouri alone lost 10,000 livestock operations (from 53,497 to 43,543). Over the past fifteen years, 20,000 Missouri cattle ranchers have gone bankrupt.

As the agricultural sector becomes more concentrated and corporatized, the loss of family farms has accelerated. From livestock production, where four companies control 85% of the U.S. beef industry and four companies control more than 70% of U.S. pork production, to grain production where 75% of the seeds are controlled by four companies, our current centralized business system has small and mid-sized farms struggling to survive in the US and around the world.

Most of the Farm Bill talk in the farm media and on Capitol Hill calls for a virtual copy of the 2018 Farm Bill, which for commodity crops is essentially a taxpayer-supported insurance bill where farmers have to choose (read “gamble ‘). ) between two different crop insurance programs, Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). If you choose wrong, you might lose the farm.

Instead, Farm Bills must work to make them a truly free market system, for the benefit of producers, consumers, and our environment. Farm Bills would address oversupply and persistently low prices in commodity markets by bringing back a grain supply management system with a farmer-owned grain reserve. Farm Bills should end the ability of the four beef packers to use futures contracts to drive cattle prices below the true value of our cattle. Farm bills should bring back mandatory country-of-origin (COOL) labeling for meat so consumers can know where their food comes from. Farm Bills must stop literally financing the industrialization, corporate takeover, and now foreign takeovers of the American livestock industry. There is a beginning.

Congress is stalling again, and one thing we know: Waiting until the last minute to pass a Farm Bill will lead to a continuation of crappy farm and food policies and will accelerate the loss of farms even faster than the past five years.

Darvin Bentlage is a Missouri farmer and member of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.