Saving the Family Farm

Democracy or 'Free Enterprise'?

Family farm agriculture worldwide, already besieged by large corporations which seek to control and dominate it, election year politicians which expediently seek to curry its favor, and liberal ag economics and trade know-nothings, will continue to face formidable challenges in the coming year.

The synergistic effect of increasing concentration, calls for more "free trade," low commodity prices, the bogus need for greater "efficiency" and the perpetuation of the "competition" myth all promise to continue to have a devastating effect on our rural communities and the agricultural economy that heretofore has sustained them.

Such, however, does not have to be the case.

Two recent studies, one by Daryll E. Ray and his associates at the University of Tennessee's Agricultural Policy Analysis Center and the other by the Canadian National Farmers Union (CNFU), clearly suggest we need to engage -- in the words of Dr. Ray's paper's title -- in "Rethinking US Agricultural Policy: Changing Course to Secure Farmer Livelihoods Worldwide" -- mainly stemming from what the CNFU terms "The Farm Crisis, Bigger Farms, and the Myths of `Competition' and 'Efficiency'."

As Ray and his co-authors Dr. Daniel De La Torre Ugarte and Dr. Kelly Tiller rightfully point out: "US farm policy has abandoned market stabilization tools in favor of production and trade liberalization with disastrous results. Because crop agriculture does not quickly self-correct like other industries, the elimination of supply management tools in recent US farm legislation has led to record-low farm prices and record-high government payments of nearly $20 billion per year to American crop farmers. This cheap-grain policy has benefited multinational agribusiness firms, large livestock operators, and importers -- not crop farmers, who now sell grain below their cost of production.

"As a result," they add, "foreign competitors charge us with dumping excess US production on world markets for less than the cost of production. This, in turn, ratchets up the cost of competitors' farm programs and damages the agricultural economies of developing countries. The outcome of this 'race to the bottom' is certain: all farmers around the world will lose."

As a way out of this morass, based on research sponsored by Oxfam America and endorsed by several farm and commodity organizations, they offer a strategy for improvement where failed policies be replaced with legislation that includes a combination of three policies: (1) acreage diversion through short-term acreage set asides and longer-term acreage reserves; (2) a farmer-owned food security reserve; and (3) other price support mechanisms.

"If this strategy is followed," they declare, "our computer model predicts total cropland planted to the eight major US crops will drop by 14 million acres in the first year, while prices for the major commodities will increase between 23% and 30%. Net farm income will then rise resulting in a decline in government payments of more than $10 billion per year. Also, these 'farmer-friendly' policies will limit future asset consolidation, reinvigorate farmer investment in agriculture and eliminate global concerns about commodity dumping."

Copies of this report can be obtained on the APAC website at

The CNFU study notes that between 1996 and 2001, government and corporate policies drove 11% of Canadian farm families off the land. "When you liquidate a population, one of the things that you need to do is to tell lies in order to devalue and marginalize those people. The most pernicious lie told about our family farms during this crisis is that they are 'inefficient'," said CNFU President Stewart Wells.

"Poor government policies" Wells asserted, "defective markets, and powerful corporations undisciplined by competition are wiping out families farms. And if everyone knew that these farms were highly efficient and productive, then their destruction would raise embarrassing questions about the functioning of our markets. But when family farms are painted as inefficient, then their loss can be swept aside as an unfortunate but necessary effect of progress."

Pointing out that there is overwhelming data that shows that the farm sector may be among the most efficient in the entire Canadian economy, Wells added: "Statistics Canada data that shows that over the past 40 years, no other sector has matched the efficiency gains of farmers." He also notes that prices farmers receive for their products have not increased in 25 years.

"The assertion that farmers are inefficient is incompatible with the reality that many of us are still able to produce despite receiving 1975 prices. Only those who can today produce and deliver their products at 1975 prices are qualified to lecture farmers on efficiency," he said.

Underscoring the report Prince Edward Island farmer Ranald MacFarlane and CNFU Board member-elect, stresses that: "Inefficiency rhetoric is nothing more than a smokescreen: a propaganda tactic deployed against farm families, workers, and rural communities."

"The Farm Crisis, Bigger Farms, and the Myths of 'Competition' and 'Efficiency'" is available on the CNFU website:

In his 1948 book Farming and Democracy, A. Whitney Griswold, a political scientist and former president of Yale University, wrote:

"We can expect no democratic miracles from agriculture or any other particular part of our economy. We can expect them only from democracy itself ... The only sure source of democracy in any of these is a national well-spring that feeds all of them, not just a source among farmers, or, as we should say, among some farmers. The lesson is plain in history. Family farming cannot save democracy. Only democracy can save the family farm...."

"The question is," Dr. Griswold concludes, "do we really believe in free enterprise in these vital terms."

A.V. Krebs is director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, PO Box 2201, Everett, WA 98203. He publishes a free email newsletter, The Agribusiness Examiner; email; web site

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