Old MacDonald HAD A Farm ...
One staple of the American mythos is the family farm. The Red States are full of family farms, run by rugged individualists who chose to remain independent businessmen. Many of these farmers are also stalwart Christians who voted for 'moral values'.
Here's how they are being repaid for their support of Bu$hCo:
In a victory for corporate agribusiness and a defeat for family farmers, President Bush nominated Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns to become the next Secretary of Agriculture. Announcing Johanns's nomination yesterday, Bush called the governor "a faithful friend of America's farmers and ranchers." But as governor, Johanns worked persistently to undermine a law, passed by a citizen initiative in 1982, that protects family farmers in Nebraska by banning most corporate agriculture.
Greeeeeeed Dollar$ Are So Rife For Me...
Johanns used $300,000 from the Bush administration to fund a biased study of the law – called I-300 – produced by a Texas consulting firm.
Firrrrrrrrms Linin' Up To Take From Thee ...
Predictably, the study recommended making it "easier for agribusiness to gobbleup traditional family farm agriculture" in Nebraska. Johanns's study also suggested "more taxpayer financed corporate welfare by 'incenting' the outside corporations that would be gobbling up individual owned farm and rural businesses."
Hands Waiting To Assist My Side...
As his next step in undermining the law, Johanns pushed a bill in the Nebraska legislature which would "establish a 20-member task force to look at the pros and cons of I-300." (Johanns was to appoint 18 of the 20 members.) The legislature understood the purpose of the task force was to weaken the state's anti-corporate farm law and, thankfully, it was defeated.
In That Boardroom, They're Feelin' That Farmin' Pride!
But if Johanns is put in control of federal agriculture policy, his corporate agenda will be much more difficult for the nation's small farmers to overcome:
* JOHANNS PROPOSES SCHOOL FUNDING CUTS TO PRESERVE CORPORATE WELFARE: In the face of a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, Johanns adamantly defended the Nebraska's massive corporate welfare program. The state has given away $1.3 billion on the program since 1988 for giant corporations like IBP, ConAgra and Union Pacific. Corporations profited to the tune of $148 million in 2001 alone. Each year, Nebraska spends three times as much on corporate welfare as on the entire University of Nebraska school system. Instead of trimming back corporate giveaways, Johanns "called for 10 percent cuts to higher education and K-12 school aid".
* JOHANNS FAVORS LOWER WAGES FOR WORKERS AT SUBSIDIZED COMPANIES: A bill was introduced in the Nebraska legislature that would require workers at companies receiving subsidies from Nebraska to be "paid at least $8.70 per hour if they have health insurance, and $9.57 for those without." Johanns supported an alternative proposal that would pay workers at taxpayer subsidized corporations lower wages, with no increase if the company didn't provide health care.
* JOHANNS FAVORS WITHHOLDING MAD COW INFORMATION FROM THE PUBLIC: With Johanns in charge, you'll likely know a lot less about the safety of the food you eat. As governor, Johanns has expressed opposition to the Department of Agriculture's policy of informing the public when the nation's beef supply may be contaminated. Johanns asked the Department of Agriculture to reconsider their policy of announcing when initial tests of cattle show they may be infected with Mad Cow disease, also known as BSE. Johanns's position runs counter to the conclusions of the USDA inspector general, which found the agency isn't doing enough to protect the public from Mad Cow contamination.
* JOHANNS AND THE POLITICS OF RELIGIOUS EXCLUSION: Johanns declared May 22, 1999 "March for Jesus Day." Johanns claimed the proclamation did not constitute government preference for a particular religion because he "wouldn't hesitate to sign a proclamation for the Jewish faith or the Hindu faith." But Johanns quickly clarified that he would not issue a proclamation supporting any religion he "personally disagree[d] with".
The news of Johanns nomination isn't being greeted with universal approval - even from farming states:
Nebraska and South Dakota residents received the news Thursday that Gov. Mike Johanns had been nominated for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture position with a mix of optimism and uncertainty.
"I'm going to have cautious optimism at this point," said District 19 Sen. Frank Kloucek (D-Scotland). "Any time you can get people from your region, it should be to your advantage."
Kloucek said he had the chance to meet Johanns several years ago and was impressed with his political drive. "However, I am concerned about his favoritism to large ag corporations and his opposition to Initiative 300," he said. "He can do a great job as ag secretary, or he can do great harm to the ag sector if he aligns too closely with ConAgra and the meat packers such as Smithfield Foods and Tyson."
Chuck Hassebrook, executive director for the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs, said Johanns' experience with budget cuts as a governor will probably be utilized as ag secretary.
"There almost certainly will be budget cuts at the Department of Agriculture in the next year, which is interestingly much of what Mike Johanns and other states were going through during his term as governor," Hassebrook said. "I think, when they get into that process, the issue is going to be where to cut.
"To me, the big question is, do you cut by capping the payments to mega-farms that they use to drive family farms out of business? Or do you keep doing what Congress has been doing, which is cutting conservation programs, cutting rural development programs and family farm programs?"
Heather Morijah, a conservation organizer in the South Dakota West River Office of the Sierra Club, echoed those concerns and said Johanns' history does not bode well for family farmers and small producers.
"He appears to be corporate-ag friendly, and not as favorable or accessible to the family farmers and small producers," she said. "We're concerned he will probably just continue the legacy of Ann Veneman, who made herself very accessible to the national large lobbies."
South Dakota Farmers Union President Dennis Wiese said, "The White House is going to want someone who responds with a clear voice. If you have a possible mad cow issue, how is the response going to be handled? Is it going to be something that protects the marketplace for the farmer as well as the consumer, or is it going to be something that drives prices down artificially?"
A Nebraskan Speaks Up Against Johanns
I don't pretend to have all the answers when it comes to saving the family farm, but I sure have lots of questions about the direction in which agriculture is headed. Big agribusiness, the real benefactors of industrialization of farms and unlimited farm commodity payments, are the ones leading farmers down a hilly, rocky, curvy, muddy dirt road with little chance at turning around.
Consumers of food and farm products - the folks who buy what we raise - are really on our side. Often times, the consumers most interested in relationship purchasing farm fresh, locally grown food and farm products are the same folks that are most concerned about the environment, their health and their communities.
Big agribusiness would like farmers to view these folks as enemies. But family farmers are slowly recognizing these educated consumers as the true friends of their style of production and marketing, while big agribusiness is being unveiled as a wolf in sheep's clothing.
An eleven-University study released last year found that 71 percent of consumers surveyed trusted farmers almost more than any other professional. The same number of people said in the survey that they preferred their food raised on small to medium sized family farms, instead of factory-style mega farms. Nearly three-quarters of the consumers surveyed said food raised with genetically modified grain should be labeled as such. They also wanted their food raised in environmentally friendly ways - livestock on pasture instead of in confinement and crops raised organically or at least using fewer pesticides.
Yet agribusiness tells farmers that we need to "get bigger or get out". They say we need to have big confinement buildings, pour on more chemicals and plant genetically altered seed if we want to be what they term as "successful".
National Farmers Union released another survey recently that found consumers in favor of country of origin labeling (COOL) for food by 82 percent. The survey found that same percentage of consumers willing to pay more for food identified as U.S. grown. Yet National Cattlemen's Beef Association and National Pork Producers Council, supposedly farmer member organizations, are both opposed to mandatory COOL.
Finally, here in Nebraska, our 22 year-old anti-corporate farming amendment, Initiative 300 is under fire by politicians, Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns and even some groups claiming to represent farmers.
At a state legislature agriculture committee hearing recently in Lincoln, farmers and others on both sides of the issue brought several concerns to bear as the committee debated LB 1086. The bill, brought forth at the urging of Governor Johanns, creates a 26-member task force to look at changing Initiative 300, relaxing statutes to allow more corporate style arrangements to take place in the state's production agriculture.
Johanns took up the idea last July when a report came out labeling Nebraska as unfriendly to corporate business. He vowed to change all that and I-300 was his first target.
But one farmer at the hearing countered, saying that weather, insects and poor commodity prices are to blame for loss of farmers, not I-300.
Hartington, Nebraska farmer Scott Kinkaid and other northeast Nebraska farmers are wondering why the legislature is interested in tinkering with a successful I-300. Attending a recent meeting with their state senator and agriculture committee member, Doug Cunningham of Wausa, Nebraska, they expressed concern that the governor-appointed task force would be "stacked" with members in favor of changes - giving I-300 supporters only token positions.
I-300 was passed in 1982 by 57 percent of voters, winning approval in 72 out of 93 counties. That's in spite of Prudential and other out of state corporations pouring nearly a half million dollars into ad campaigns to fight it's passage, outspending I-300 proponents five to one. 1994 survey showed farmers and ranchers of all sizes supporting I-300 by 65 percent to 20 percent. Only 18 percent supported repeal of the amendment. A 1999 Nebraska Rural Poll, surveying residents living outside metropolitan Omaha and Lincoln, found that 80 percent of those surveyed and 89 percent of farmers and ranchers completing the survey wanted no farms owned by non-family corporations.
At the hearing in Lincoln, I-300's constitutionality was discussed. South Dakota's new anti-corporate farming initiative, Amendment E, was recently ruled unconstitutional, interfering with interstate commerce. Proponents of the amendment are now asking the Supreme Court to hear the case. Chuck Hassebrook from the Center for Rural Affairs at Lyons, Nebraska, explained the difference between Amendment E and I-300 and the reasons that I-300 has already successfully withstood such challenges.
As recently as 1991, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld I-300. At least a half dozen other attempts through petition drive and legislation aimed at repealing the amendment have all failed.
In 1998, the Unicameral required corporations to report farm holdings, improving enforcement of the amendment. In 2000, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that a family member must actually work at the farm if a family corporation is to be exempt.
University of Nebraska statistics show that the state's national rankings in production agriculture have actually increased since I-300. We are number 3 in corn, number 5 in soybeans and number 1 in red meat production and slaughter. Unlike other livestock states, we still have family farming of all sizes. We also have 42 percent more farmers in our state under the age of 35 than in surrounding states without anti-corporate farming legislation.
The legislation is controversial. Nebraska Farmers Union, Grange, WIFE and Friends of the Constitution as well as several other family farm advocacy groups oppose the task force idea, while Nebraska Farm Bureau favors it.
So it seems that many farm groups, big agribusiness and legislators are not listening to farmers and consumers. They aren't getting the message on issues like saving family style agriculture, mandatory COOL and I-300.
So farmers and consumers need to battle hard for the types of farms they want raising their food. The time has come to stand up for family agriculture - and we need to stand up together.
We in the Blue States - major consumers of Red State farm goods - tried to get you guys to stand with us against such predations of Bu$hCo in this last election, but you were more concerned with 'moral values' and Bu$h'$ image as a leader despite of his sorry record.
Now that you are in the flowing fertilizer, you want us to stand with you to support you in your efforts against the very companies that you ignored our pleas to support us against their sending our jobs out of the country?
I'm not sure that I'm Christian enough to turn the other cheek to you, especially if we can count on you guys voting against our interests in the future under the mistaken belief that you are supporting 'moral values'.
You guys don't get it. I'm sure those wrong-wingers who regularly visit this site claiming that they are economists - or claim some economic background - will argue that you people are dinosaurs, and that corporatizing food production is the only logical way to go. Why shouldn't there be a Wal-Farm as a production counterpart to Wal-Mart on the consumer side?
Am I getting through to you guys yet?
This is no different than many of the issues we in the Blue States faced this last November, and we struggled hard to make our arguments available to you, but all you heard was Ru$h Limbaugh blathering about us 'Libruls'. Now you want us to stand with you!
You guys will have to show us a quid pro quo to demonstrate good faith on your part. Help us out with some issue that also benefits you, if that's what it will take. For example, help us turn the nation away from our insatiable thirst for foreign oil by promoting alternative energy production. Your corn crops will thus become even more valuable, and we all win. You might even help to save hundreds - if not thousands - of your own sons' (and daughters') lives by not sending them ill-equiped into combat with people who have nothing to lose, will fight with rocks and fists, and are ready to die to take an enemy with them to the hereafter.
There are many other ways you can show us your good faith that we really have a reason to help you. Just pick one.
And mean it.
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