American farmers have been forgotten and as a result, our rural communities are crumbling.
Family Farms and Small-scale Operations:
Missouri’s small family farmers are losing as the problems facing farmers across the 8th District continue to grow. Consider the following:
- According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, beef cattle farming accounted for $735 million in agricultural sales and nearly 11,500 jobs in Missouri’s 8th District in 2016.
- In 2012, nearly 80 percent of all beef cattle operations in the state were small operations with less than 50 head.
- Approximately 385,700 cattles were raised in 8th District counties in 2016.
With so many 8th district farmers dedicated to beef production alone, it would seem that Washington, DC would be concerned about the economic well-being of these producers, as well as other livestock producers, truck farmers, and organic operators. However, many Republican proposals, especially the 2018 corporate Farm Bill, hit these smaller farm operations hardest.
According to Rolla area cattle farmer Donna Adam, GOP policies make running her 160 acre farm much more difficult. She, along with millions of Americans, has seen an increase in healthcare costs. “I’ve had a 10% increase on premiums this past year, and anticipate a 20% increase with higher out of pocket maximums coming,” she told Kathy during a visit to her farm in April. Other concerns she shared with Kathy include:
- Costs of drugs to treat and vaccinate her herd are tied to the costs of human medications. She continues to see yearly increases in the costs of preventative veterinary medications such as respiratory, blackleg, pinkeye, wormers, and others.
- Federal farm subsidies do not benefit small farmers and instead, drive them out of business. Nearly 80% of farm subsidies go to corporate farms, that are also buying up and consolidating land in Missouri.
- Threatening trade agreements such as NAFTA and TPP and the potential fallout have led to increased tariffs that make farming, especially smaller operations, more costly. Fertilizer costs and retaliatory tariffs on beef, corn, aluminum, and other products will increase the cost of farm equipment and supplies, costs which smaller farms may not be able to absorb.
- Deregulation does not benefit small farmers. Most regulations on land and water use were established to address the big corporate farms that dump animal waste into rivers and streams, or use chemicals indiscriminately. Deregulation simply means more of the larger operations will not be held accountable for their practices.
- Lack of broadband and the high cost for all internet access in rural Missouri is crippling farmers’ ability to market and deliver information to potential customers. As farmers try to modernize their operations with computerized recordkeeping, access up-to-the-minute market information and localized weather forecasts, lack of broadband puts rural Missourians at a competitive disadvantage.
- Cuts to inheritance taxes has had little impact on small family farmers but continues to line the pockets of Wall Street billionaires. Most Missouri small farmers have assets of less than the original $5 million limit; raising the limit to $11 million only benefited the extremely wealthy and corporate farmers.
- Tariffs on steel will cause additional price hikes (15 to 30%) for 2.05 million farmers for basic supplies, like barbed wire, fence posts, gates, hay rings, and other equipment.
In addition to these issues, the US Department of Agriculture has proposed a 15-21% cut to vital programs, potentially closing countless local offices that help small farmers and rural residents navigate subsidy and rural development programs. This cut would also affect the Crop Insurance program which helps farms recoup some of their losses during drought or other disasters. The closing of these offices helps only one group: corporate farms.
There are more issues plaguing small family farmers and their rural communities. According to Family Farm Action, the twin problems of corporate agriculture and foreign ownership of US land are destroying rural communities. For instance:
- Foreign corporations and countries like Saudi Arabia, Brazil and China are buying up hundreds of thousands of acres of American farmland.
- Just a few companies monopolize control over much of the US food supply.
- One in four hogs in this country is now owned by China.
- Five multinational corporations—soon to merge to just three—dominate the market for seeds and fertilizer.
- “Contract farming” pushes families deep into debt, often making them beholden to a single corporation for survival and leaving them with no negotiating power at all.
There are solutions to some of these problems which often require no additional legislation. The Organization for Competitive Markets advocates the following:
- Ensure current antitrust and anti-competition laws are enforced and have the teeth necessary to provide the marketplace with safeguards
- Reform the checkoff tax system used to support policies that work against the family farmers who pay into the checkoff
- Strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 by the enactment and implementation of Farmer Fair Practices Rules which will ensure enforcement
- Reinstate Country of Origin Labeling in the U.S. to allow American consumers knowledge of the origins of their food and farmers a fair market for their products.
Small farms make up a large percentage of the agricultural business in the 8th District. Legislators must make decisions that will protect these small family farms and the rural communities they support.
Large-scale Farms and Agribusiness:
Missouri’s commodity prices are at a five-year low and large-scale farmers stand to lose. For instance Missouri exports 15% of the corn grown in the state to Mexico, bringing in $330 million to growers in 2015. In anticipation of a “border tax” Mexico has already begun to look for other suppliers.
China, the number one importer of Missouri soybeans, announced in May it would stop shipment of over 7.2 million bushels of US soybeans in response to tariff threats by the Trump administration on Chinese products. Using the threat of a trade war to negotiate deals with foreign powers always puts farmers in the middle and they always lose.
Kathy has visited with farmers big and small across the 8th District. She has listened to the concerns and solutions farmers see facing their operations. She knows that the health of our farms is key to the health of our rural communities. Kathy has signed onto the Missouri Democratic Party Farmers’ Bill of Rights, which supports a “set of values and policies that give power back to Missouri’s farmers.”