Progressive young Democrats working on food and farm issues have largely missed a key plank for their platform. It's the plank for a Democratic commodity title of the federal farm bill.
I remember my grandfather fondly recalling the New Deal farm programs of Henry Wallace. These programs gave us no commodity subsidies, but rather had price floors and supply management. From 1942 to 1952 these were not minimum price levels, but fair trade, living wage price floors. When they were then weakened, my father fought back.
The problems of cheap corn, soybeans, and other commodities are the top priority for the food movement. Strangely, this top priority is the single way the food movement is wrong. They miss the Democratic price floors and supply management (and for high prices, price ceilings and strategic reserve supplies) of the Harkin-Gephardt farm bill of the 1980s and 1990s. They call for mere subsidy reform, which is worse than the corporate CED position of 1962, where they called for the elimination of 1/3 of US farmers within five years. These core values are better represented in the plank I present below. (with footnotes!)
Farm Bill Platform Planks
WHEREAS, the Commodity Title of the US farm bill is the largest and most important part of the farm bill, in terms of economic impact in the United States and worldwide;1 and
WHEREAS, farm program crops, like corn, wheat, rice, cotton and soybeans, lack price responsiveness on both supply and demand sides,2 leading in the 20th century to chronic low prices, except for three significant price spikes upward;3 and
WHEREAS, cheap commodities have contributed to a U.S. food crisis, as food processors, producing high fructose corn syrup, transfats and high carb junk food, were subsidized by billions of dollars of below cost, (below zero) gains, as these corporations paid farmers less than the full cost of production,4 and gained even more below the level of full fair trade, living wage farm prices (well above zero); and
WHEREAS, the U.S. has been a price leader for these commodities in global export markets, thus effectively setting world market prices;5 and
WHEREAS, these same cheap prices led to massive losses on U.S. farm exports,6 and massive dumping on farmers around the world, including farmers in Least Developed Countries, (which are 70% rural,7 and desperately in need of fair farm prices,) causing economic damage in the U.S. and poverty and hunger around the world.; and
WHEREAS, on the top side of price, during occasional price spikes, food costs can become excessive, especially for poor people, such as rural people in LDCs who become malnourished and starve to death, since their (rural) economies, their wealth creation and jobs creation, were devastated by decades of export dumping; and
WHEREAS, cheap prices cause reductions in farm income, preventing many farmers from bringing their sons and daughters into farming, thus leading to a concentration of farmland into fewer hands, increased use of labor saving pesticides, and reduced incorporation of labor intensive livestock into diversified farming operations; and
WHEREAS, these same cheap prices provide multibillion dollar below cost gains for giant unsustainable livestock production factories and feedlots (CAFOs),8 enabling them to compete unfairly with diversified crop and livestock farmers, taking away the value added wealth of livestock from diversified (more sustainable) farms; and
WHEREAS, whereas that unfair livestock competition also directly hurts sustainability, as crop farmers increasingly plow up pasture and hay ground that is sometimes fragile, and remove those crops from crop rotations, and making it much harder for pasture fed livestock to compete with factory farm livestock, and further, (as clover and alfalfa are removed from crop rotations,) creating a need for unsustainable nitrogen fertilizers (otherwise provided by legume crops in rotation,) such as anhydrous ammonia, which kills life in the soil; and
WHEREAS, all of that ecological damage also costs us money; and
WHEREAS, this agricultural concentration directly damages rural communities economically, since dozens of studies show that giant crop farms and livestock factories create less wealth and create fewer jobs than the diversified systems they replace;9 and
WHEREAS, rural communities and our nation and world are also damaged socially, as gaps between rich and poor, and many other qualities of healthy civic societies are damaged by agricultural concentration, also costing us all economically, as services provided through the private sector by the rural way of life are transformed into social problems and costly needs; and
WHEREAS, starting more than 10,000 years ago in the agricultural revolution, diversified, small-community-based, family farming developed awesome crop and livestock genetic diversity for family farms, including more than 8,000 edible plant species,10 while the power complexes (civilizations) of the later urban revolution, and especially the mega-technic agribusiness complexes of recent decades, have destroyed much of this diversity, and have reduced our food consumption to over reliance on only 8 species of plants, with huge reductions in the genetic diversity within each of these species, and while the same thing has happened for livestock11; and
WHEREAS, farm subsidies merely compensate U.S. farmers for these massive free market, free trade losses, but do nothing significant to address the underlying economic cause of cheap prices,12 (the lack of price responsiveness,) and therefore serve as a huge scapegoat13 and smokescreen, hiding the massive, off books, below cost gains of corporate grain buyers, and covering up effective solutions; and
WHEREAS, other policy and program mechanisms, when adequately implemented, have been proven to effectively manage the problem, (specifically PRICE FLOORS with SUPPLY MANAGEMENT on the bottom side of price, and RESERVE SUPPLIES with PRICE CEILINGS, to trigger release of reserves as needed during price spikes, on the top side,)14; and
WHEREAS, mega-corporate special interests have called for the elimination of these effective programs, and called for massive concentration in agriculture, even for the removal of one third of all farmers and farm labor within a five year period15; and
WHEREAS, these effective policies were reduced, under corporate pressure, from 1953-1995 and then eliminated; and
WHEREAS, subsidy reforms alone leave these mega-corporate “zero” policies, (zero price floors, zero supply management, zero reserves,) fully in place;16 and
WHEREAS, no subsidies, including supply management subsidies, are needed when these programs are adequately implemented, thus freeing up billions of dollars for other uses; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. makes a profit on farm exports when these policies are implemented; and
WHEREAS, these policies essentially fix a broad range of massive food and farm crises;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the (your county/state/national) (your party) political party supports the Farm Bill Commodity Title provisions of the Food from Family Farms act of the National Family Farm Coalition, specifically: adequate price floors and supply management on the bottom side of farm prices, and strategic food and other commodity reserves on the top side, with properly set price ceilings to trigger the release of reserves when prices spike too high.
- “Presbyterian Farmer talks solutions,” akbartlett, http://www.youtube.com/...
- It's Price Responsiveness! It's Price Responsiveness!!
IT'S PRICE RESPONSIVENESS!!! Daryll E. Ray, APAC, University of Tennessee, http://agpolicy.org/...
- Policy premise correct three times a century, Daryll E. Ray, APAC, University of Tennessee, http://www.agpolicy.org/...
- “Sweetening the Pot: Implicit Subsidies to Corn Sweeteners and the U.S. Obesity Epidemic, Alicia Harvie and timothy A. Wise, GDAE, Tufts University, http://ase.tufts.edu/...
- “Rethinking US Agricultural Policy: Changing Course to Secure Farmer Livelihoods Worldwide,” Daryll E. Ray, Daniel G. De La Torre Ugarte, Kelly J. Tiller, APAC, University of Tennessee, ch. 3, “US Prices Matter,”
- “WTO Agreement on Agriculture: A Decade of Dumping,” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, http://www.iatp.org/... “Feeding the Factory Farm: Implicit Subsidies tot he Broiler Chicken Industry,” Elanor Starmer, Aimee Witteman, & Timothy A. Wise, GDAE, Tufts University, June 2006, Appendix A, etc., http://ase.tufts.edu/... Commodity Costs and Returns: Data: “Recent” and “Historical Costs and Returns,” USDA, Economic Research Service, http://www.ers.usda.gov/...
- Choose “Least Developed Countries,” “Percentage Rural,” and click “Display:” http://esa.un.org/...
- “Industrial Livestock Companies’ Gains from Low Feed Prices, 1997-2005,”
February 26, 2007 Timothy A. Wise and Elanor Starmer, http://www.nffc.net/...
- As You Sow: Three Studies on the Social Consequences of Agribusiness, Walter Goldschmidt, 1978; John Ikerd, CAFOs vs Rural Communities, In Motion Magazine, 9/15/08, http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/... The Economic Impacts of Increased Contract Swine Production in Missouri: Another Viewpoint, John E. Ikerd, Sustainable Agriculture Systems Program, University of Missouri, http://web.missouri.edu/... “Industrialized Farming and Its Relationship to Community Well-Being: An Update of a 2000 Report by Linda Lobao,” Curtis Stofferahn, Sept. 2006; Lobao, Linda M. 2000. “Industrialized Farming and Its Relationship to Community Well-Being: Report Prepared for the State of South Dakota”, Office of the Attorney General, Pierre, So. Dak.
- “Lessons of Fighting Hegemonies in Food and Seed for 30 Years,” Vandana Shiva, zspace, http://www.zcommunications.org/... “The State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,” http://www.fao.org/...
- THE STATE OF THE WORLD’s ANIMAL GENETIC RESOURCES
FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE, http://www.fao.org/...
- “Michael Pollan Rebuttal: Debunking Pollan’s “Corn Subsidy,” Argument,” “4 Proofs,” parts 1 and 2, YouTube, FireweedFarm, http://www.youtube.com/... “Rethinking US Agricultural Policy: Changing Course to Secure Farmer Livelihoods Worldwide,” Daryll E. Ray, Daniel G. De La Torre Ugarte, Kelly J. Tiller, APAC, University of Tennessee, ch. 6, “What If We Get Rid of Subsidies,”
13 On subsidies as “scapegoat,” see “Ensure Farmers have Fair Living Wage,” Jerry Pennick and Heather Gray, Dederation of Southern Land Cooperatives, Land Assistance Fund, 12/1/06, http://www.zcommunications.org/...
- Daryll E. Ray, Daniel G. De La Torre Ugarte, Kelly J. Tiller, APAC, University of Tennessee, ch. 7, “A Farmer-Oriented Policy Blueprint: Changing Course to Secure Farmer Livelihoods Worldwide,”
http://agpolicy.org/... NFFC Farm Bill 3, Food from Family Farms Act,” YouTube, FireweedFarm’s channel, http://www.youtube.com/... “Michael Pollan Rebuttal: Debunking Pollan’s “Corn Subsidy,” Argument,” part 2, YouTube, FireweedFarm, http://www.youtube.com/...
- “An Adaptive Program for Agriculture,” Committee for Economic Development, 1962, pp. 25, 34, 40, 42, 59; “Farm Bill 1, Agribusiness Against Fair Prices,” YouTube, FireweedFarm, http://www.youtube.com/... Mark Ritchie and Kevin Ristau, Crisis by Design: A Brief Review of US Farm Policy, League of Rural Voters, 1987, pp. 3-5, (http://www.iatp.org/iatp/publications.cfm?accountID=258&refID=48644).
- “Foodie-Farmie Coalition,” Brad Wilson, 10/15/09, zspace, http://www.zcommunications.org/...
- “Food from family Farms Act, A Proposal for the 2007 U.S. Farm Bill,” National Family Farm Coalition, http://www.nffc.net/...