GLEANINGS The pork checkoff: unconstitutional
yesterday, mandatory today. Where's it all leading? One farmer's take on the end result of mandatory
By Richard R. Oswald, Rockport, Missouri
October 29, a Michigan judge ruled mandatory pork
checkoffs unconstitutional. On
November 18, an appeals court ruled it mandatory
again. In this guest commentary, a Missouri hog producer
reflects on what it's import is for family farms.
Monday, Nov. 11,
2002 -- CropChoice guest commentary: Checkoff beginnings
date back to the heydays of family farms. Most of the checkoffs we
have now were approved by a very different set of producers with different
demographics than many of those present today. A good number who once
voted left the roles of contributors when agriculture contraction
across the country squeezed them out.
As a pork producer, I favored the pork checkoff and regarded it as
a noble attempt at self-help, but today I am no longer a pork producer.
My hog operation was a victim of the consolidation that still plagues
all areas of American agriculture. In order to make a living I concentrated
my labor where it would be most effective. In my case, that meant
more hours behind the steering wheel of a row crop tractor or grain
I think that most of us who voted in favor of checkoffs, in whatever
area of agriculture, did so not so much to promote basic commodities
for the commodities sake but rather to promote the people upon whose
existence production of that commodity depended. We did it to make
our farms and ranches better, more profitable places for our children
and us. We dreamed of what increased demand would do for us financially.
We had expectations that somehow our lives might be improved by higher
prices that would allow just a little more time both for our families
and ourselves. We had expectations that incomes might be enlarged
through promotion rather than longer workdays and we craved the self-respect
that successful marketing promised.
Many of the hopes we had have been forgotten but the checkoffs as
well as consolidation of farms has continued. Many of us have now
retired or work off the land. World demand may have improved but mechanization,
technology, and genetics took the place of a lightened work load,
and the increased production from those and other enhancements has
more than nullified any positives that might have allowed higher prices
for what we produce.
Many checkoff funded producer groups have developed beyond the needs
of producer families. They've outgrown their roots and left behind
the people they were supposed to help. In the case of NPPC [National
Pork Producers Council], the basic commodity and the corporate business
surrounding it took the spotlight to the exclusion of all else. It
is obvious that a majority of producers have been disenfranchised
and now they are making their dissatisfaction known in the only way
that will gain them any notice. All it would have taken to avoid much
of today's unrest was respect.
As our groups grow and expand, they become more than we bargained
for. They take on the appearance of a large business that must promote
and feed itself above fulfilling its original mandate. It's not enough
to promote a product if the families who rely on profitable farming
and livestock production to make their living are forgotten in the
bargain. Groups must respect all farm and ranch families, not just
the largest or wealthiest. Promotion isn't totally about big business
or political deal making. They must honor our way of life and acknowledge
that in the countryside, family men are more important than businessmen.
They should remember that, without us, there is no group.