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Bush administration accused of creating two rural Americas

(Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- AGRIWORLD DIRECT via The Agribusiness Examiner: The Bush administration is creating two rural America's by diverting the major part of agricultural funding to the huge industrial farms.

By placing most of the 2002 Farm Bill’s economic and conservation funding in the hands of immense industrial farms, Bush Administration farm policy is forging two rural America’s: one of a fading sect of traditional family farmers with little funding and a diminishing supply of land, and the other a small but wealthy agribusiness elite driven by taxpayer-funded incentives.

"What we’re seeing here and everywhere in this business is the corporate industrialization of agriculture by non-farmers," said Chris Petersen, of the GRACE Factory Farm Project and a multi-generational farmer himself. "They say bigger is better…but for whom? Not for family farmers and certainly not for rural communities."

The 2002 agriculture census, the most recent farming data available, shows that small to medium sized traditional family farms are vanishing at an astonishing rate and being replaced by larger, mechanized facilities.

Census data shows that the number of pig farms in the country has decreased by 37% in five years --- over 45,000 farms abandoned. During that same period, the national inventory of pigs has only dropped by one percent.

On the Bush Administration’s watch, large industrial farms have collected an ever-greater share of federal farm subsidies.

In 1995, they received $3.98 billion, or 55% of all federal farm payments. In 2002, their portion increased to $7.8 billion, or 65% of all federal payments. Currently, almost 30% of agricultural subsidies go to the top two percent of farms and over 80% to the top 30%.

Indeed, the 2002 census confirmed the consolidation of the U.S. farming sector around a smaller number of increasingly wealthy corporate players. The census found that the most profitable three percent of large farms earn 61% of all the money paid for agricultural products in the United States.

"By shrinking the market for sustainable farming, consolidation is forcing traditional family farmers to foreclose or become contract growers for industrial agriculture," said Alice Slater, President of the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE).

One Bush Administration program, masquerading as environmental clean-up, actually is helping corporate agribusiness at the expense of traditional family farmers.

Under the Bush Administration’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), 60% of program funds must go to help livestock producers meet environmental regulations. Since generally only operations with 1,000 or more animals require regulation, the vast majority of funds are directed toward large industrial facilities.

"In all the language in the EQIP program, they have taken farmer out and inserted producer," notes Petersen. "The program ends up robbing the true stewards of the land to pay the biggest polluters."

"Farm policy under the Bush Administration has made industrial farms more competitive than they would otherwise be by forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for their clean up," notes Slater.

"By ignoring the principle of ‘polluter pays’, the Administration is subsidizing big agribusiness at the expense of traditional family farmers," she said.

President Bush has recently suggested expanding another program, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), that provides incentives for farmers to set aside some of their land indefinitely.

But the program has the effect of squeezing traditional family farming out of rural communities by opening more land to non-agricultural activities.

Indeed, studies by the American Farmland Trust have found that every minute of every day America loses two more acres of rural farmland.

"Despite the rhetoric, traditional family farmers seem left out of the current vision for rural America," said Slater. "Our future should be about preserving access to wholesome food by protecting rural America’s farming heritage, not finding new ways to stamp it out." [ September 6, 2004 ]

Agriworld Direct is a Netherlands website