Iowa family farm leaders challenge USDA agenda

Posted July 29, 2005 Ames, Iowa: Future U.S. Farm Bills and trade agreements must drastically change if consumers and family farmers are to benefit, according to a group of Iowa family farmers who met to discuss the upcoming Farm Bill. The group meeting was held simultaneously with the first of several USDA-sponsored public forum discussions on the same topic. Speakers at the Ames meeting said that the USDA meeting agenda clearly demonstrated the Administration’s bias toward maintaining policies which profit multinational corporations instead of the public good.

“You can’t talk about the U.S. Farm Bill without confronting head on the role of multinational corporations and how they dominate farm and trade policy,” said George Naylor, Churdan farmer, National Family Farm Coalition President and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) member. “It is ludicrous for Secretary Johanns to claim he’s holding a meaningful discussion on farm policy when he excludes the impact of the WTO and other trade agreements that pit family farmers around the world against each other for the benefit of multinational corporations.”

“We are losing our quality of life because of corporate monopolies and concentration,” added Chris Petersen, President of the Iowa Farmers Union, who farms near Clear Lake. “The new Farm Bill could be a golden opportunity to change directions, and we have specific policy proposals that would return profitability to the family farm sector of agriculture. The current policies, which promote more production using fewer farmers, are destroying our rural communities.”

Dennis Olson, Trade Director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy gave a presentation showing the dismal ten-year track record of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and recent export-oriented U.S. Farm Bills. “The U.S. is projected to become a net importer of agricultural products for the first time since 1959,” Olson said. “Obviously the promises made a decade ago that U.S. farmers would export their way to prosperity have proven false. It’s time to rethink and consider viable alternatives as we begin the debate over the next farm bill.”

Olson also presented highlights of two recently published reports from his institute that document threats posed by the recently adopted Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) to U.S. sugar and ethanol production. Olson said CAFTA would expand the failed NAFTA model to Central America.

“Look at the winners of the current system: Cargill, ADM, and Smithfield,” said Larry Ginter, a farmer from Rhodes, and a member of Iowa CCI. “The people with power who negotiate these farm bills and trade agreements should look out for the public interest, not just corporate interests. That’s why there must be a place at the policy table for grassroots organizations that truly represent family farmers, workers, and others who have a stake in healthy, sustainable agriculture and communities.”

The Ames farm and trade policy meeting was sponsored by the Iowa Farmers Union; Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; Women, Food, and Agriculture Network; Sierra Club, Iowa Chapter; and the National Family Farm Coalition.