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President, Nebraska Farmers Union
As a recent New York Times article on ag subsidies clearly shows, family farm agriculture is now reaping the public perception and political backlash that the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, National Soybean Growers, National Association of Wheat Growers, and the U.S. based grain traders set us up for and created in 1996.
They transformed traditional farm programs from price supporting programs that forced the grain traders to pay up for grain commodities, which caused the cost of farm programs to be relatively low, and the majority of farm income to be realized through the cash market into income transfer programs that look, feel, and taste like welfare programs to most observers.
The fact that the actual structure is a “make up allowance” of sorts for lost market place value lost is seldom if ever recognized. The common perception becomes the reality, which is the current structure of farm programs is politically indefensible and fiscally vulnerable, just as Farmers Union said it was in the 1996 Farm Bill battle.
When we compare the 1996 value of the national production of six crops: Corn, Wheat, Soybeans, Grain Sorghum, Rice, and Cotton for the years 1997 through 2003, farmers were paid an average of $14.6 billion less for their crops. That amounts to $102.45 billion less money the raw material processors paid farmers for their crops during the 1997-2003 period.
So, who are the primary beneficiaries of the “farm subsidies”? Not the family farmers who lost more market place value than they got in income transfers — and produced most of their crops most years at below the USDA’s Economic Research Service estimated cost of production. Not the consumers who did not pay proportionally less for the processed food products they bought. The food processors and food retailers.
They continue to steal raw material food production from farmers and ranchers for below full cost of production, with the help of our national farm and trade policy, which continues to be driven and supported by the food industry conglomerates with the political support of the very organizations that are supposed to be representing America’s family farmers and ranchers.
What is worse, the very same set of big agribusiness players and their political supporters are now positioned to use the growing federal deficit and the direction of WTO negotiations to further carry out their self serving economic agenda to reduce and eliminate domestic income supports which are now called “subsidies”. The new Congress leadership and the White House both support this agenda.
American farmers and ranchers are being fed to the U.S. based international corporate sharks by their own public officials, commodity organizations, and the American Farm Bureau Federation. Our traditional system of independent, farmer and rancher owned food and fiber production is being destroyed and dismantled in favor of the industrialized, top down corporate owned and controlled version of the failed former Soviet model.
In the last election, rural voters, just as the low self esteem victims of prolonged domestic abuse often do, once again helped their own abusers further beat and humiliate them.
JOHN HANSEN is president of the Nebraska Farmers Union.