Disparaging Comments by Ag Secretary Perdue About the Future of Independent Family Farms Should Spur Congressional Action
Family farm groups from Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and South Dakota traveled to Washington, D.C. last week to meet with members of Congress on the causes of the current Farm Crisis, and the failure of the proposed new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to address those challenges.
The meetings came two weeks after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s controversial comments about the viability of small family farms and the need for farm operations to get big in order to survive.
At the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, Perdue told a group of small and mid-sized, mostly dairy farmers: “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out. I don’t think in America we, for any small business, have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.” This, while the Trump Administration is subsidizing the largest meatpacker in the world, Brazilian owned JBS, with millions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers.
The big getting bigger and pushing out the small has been strategically sold by corporate agriculture interests to farmers and the general public as the inevitable destiny of U.S. agriculture since the Nixon era. The groups questioned whether Perdue can effectively serve all farmers, including small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers, as Agriculture Secretary.
The groups make up the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment, which called on Congress to reject the Trump Administration’s proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA, or NAFTA 2.0). For agriculture, the USMCA is a status quo deal that does nothing to address excess corporate control of the agriculture economy where most farmers are losing money and have to rely on off-farm jobs to survive. Instead, the USMCA locks in a system that has greatly benefited multinational agribusiness firms. The Trump Administration chose to ignore a major ask from farm groups – the inclusion of mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat products that would benefit both U.S. ranchers and consumers.
“NAFTA has allowed large corporations like JBS and Smithfield to pad their bottom line at the expense and loss of hundreds of thousands of family farmers,” said Frank Jones, a farmer from SE Iowa and member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, “Elected officials need to create fair trade policies if they want to help farmers in Iowa and across the Midwest. Not pass another `free trade’ scheme like USMCA.”
“I urge our elected representatives to pass policies that restore and protect an independent family farm system of agriculture, including policies that address corporate control, overproduction and low prices,” said Darvin Bentlage, 4th generation cattle and grain producer from Barton County, MO. “Concentration and corporate ‘free trade’ have allowed multinational corporations in the meatpacking industry to extract wealth from our rural communities and put independent family farmers out of business. Our elected reps need to do better and address what is going on out here and not follow lock-step the policies written by corporations and lobbyists at the expense of our farms, families and communities.”
Kathy Tyler, a Dakota Rural Action member affected by factory farm expansion said, “Somewhere, sometime, somehow, Congress and our local legislators and officials need to start caring about and doing something about the exodus of farm families. They are the backbone of our state and are what keep our small communities alive. If we don’t support them, we will all vanish.”
Independent family farmer leaders from the four Midwestern states outlined their concerns with the new NAFTA in an oped that ran in the Des Moines Register in August.
The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE) consists of four Midwest state-based membership organizations and two national organizations fighting against corporate factory farms. CFFE works to oppose national, state, and local policies propping up corporate factory farms and damaging independent family farmers, extracting wealth from our rural communities, and polluting our land, water, and air. CFFE helps citizens organize and defend local control, preserve the use of public resources for the public good, and apply more democratic decision-making.
CFFE is composed of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Dakota Rural Action, Land Stewardship Project, Food & Water Watch, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.