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Saving the family farm from industrialized food nightmare

(Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- George Naylor letter to Des Moines Register, 08/22/04:
The Register's Aug. 10 editorial, "Economy 101: Don't Wait for WTO Edicts to Switch Farm Programs," was very inaccurate and, in my opinion, irresponsible. Pursuing the farm and trade prescriptions of the Register and World Trade Organization will lead to the extinction of family farms all over the planet.

You say we should "stop subsidizing farmers the way we're doing it - by supporting the price of their crops." The fact is that the hallmark feature of recent farm programs is that they do not support prices. The "marketing loan" allows corn, etc. to drop to whatever the traders at Chicago Board of Trade predict worldwide production will clear the market.

Right now, new crop prices of corn and soybeans are below typical 1980s prices. If the world is blessed by several good crops in a row (unlike last year's widespread drought), there's nothing to stop the price from plummeting to 10 cents a bushel, just like it did in 1933 before the New Deal farm program did support prices.

According to a study from the University of Tennessee ("Rethinking U.S. Agriculture Policy," http://www.agpolicy.org ), net income for corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton are typically negative even taking into account government payments. Unless you believe in Mike Dukakis' idea that Iowa farmers should raise Belgian endive and that farmers markets can absorb millions of acres of seasonal production, farmers face only one choice - their mix of corn and soybeans planted fencerow-to-fencerow. In other parts of the United States and the world, it's whatever feedgrain or oilseed fits their soil and climate.

Huge hog and chicken factories and cattle and dairy feedlots take the resulting cheap feed to produce cheap livestock for giant multinational processors and retailers. Family farms with crop rotations including pasture, hay and small grains are not in this picture.

This industrialized food nightmare will not change simply by eliminating subsidies and implementing the Conservation Security Program (CSP). Only if new farm and trade policy supports prices and stops the crazy expansion of feedgrain and oilseed production around the world can the CSP live up to its promise of encouraging sustainable family-farm agriculture with safe, nutritious local food supplies, healthy rural communities and protection of our air and water.

-George Naylor, president,
National Family Farm Coalition,
Churdan, Iowa