Farm Aid 85: Neil Young Predicts 21st Century Food Crisis

Neil Young's Open Letter to President Reagan

It's time for Farm Aid 2011.  The concert is in Kansas City, Kansas, Saturday August 13.  This occasion might be a good time to take a look at some connections between Farm Aid's work and farm and food justice.  

First take note of Neil Young's 1985 full page ad in USA Today, an open letter to then President Ronald Reagan the 1985 farm bill.  It was read on the state at Farm Aid by the actor Timothy Hutton.  The letter can be read here:  "Dear President Reagan: You're Creating a Farm & Food Crisis."

Neil called for turning back the tide of corporate influence on US farm policy.  Specifically he called on Reagon to support the Farm Policy Reform Act, a grassroots farm bill.  Ironically, he essentially called for the US to make a "fair trade" profit on farm exports, including those to Reagan's "Evil Empire."  Reagan instead exported US grain to the Soviets at a loss in order to fatten corporate profits domestically and globally.  That was considered to be more capitalistic, more "competitive," more subservient to the market.  In contrast, OPEC continued to raise oil prices.  They balanced supply and demand instead of overproducing, and greatly increased their profits.

At the same time, Neill called for limits on US economic greed. The greed would be tempered by price ceilings and reserve supplies.  Unlike OPEC, he called for an upper, as well as a lower limit on farm commodity prices.

In replacing subsidies with adequate price floors, Neil's plan would have significantly reduced government costs as it greatly increased export income.  Under Reagan government farm program costs increased greatly. "Exports" were quickly said to have increased, but that was just in terms of export volume, for wheat to the Soviets, for example.  In value, exports dropped significantly, as econometric studies had predicted.  

Reagan didn't heed that call from Neil and from farmers across the US.  He lowered US farm prices, and increased compensatory subsidies back to farmers.  He lowered the prices significantly more than he increased the subsidies, however.  The result has been disastrous, leading, in important ways, to the US food crisis and global food poverty crisis of today.  

Willie Nelson:  Eddie Albert on US Wealth Creation with out Stimulus Spending:  Fair Trade Farm Prices  

More recently, Willie Nelson published an Eddie Albert speech on the Steagall Amendment of 1941, a wealth creation stimulus package through the farm bill.  If you remember Eddie from the TV show Green Acres, you might not know that he also worked as a farm justice leader. He was the first, (in a speech in Cedar Rapids Iowa,) one who told me about how corporations had called for running farmers off the land, one third in not more than five years.  That was from "An Adaptive Program for Agriculture," from the Committee for Economic Development.

The Steagall Amendment was passed through the banking committees to help end the Great Depression and fund World War II.  No farm subsidies were needed, as wealth was generated from the marketplace.  It was even said that the government made money on the program  itself, through interest on price floor loans. Willie's introduction and Eddie's speech can be found here:  "It's About America.

The United Farmer and Rancher Congress:  "Farm Bill Basics" against "A Legacy of Crisis."

During the 1980s farm crisis, Farm Aid organized the Farm Aid Congress to deal with farm and food policy issues. Documents developed for the Farm Aid Congress are among the few pre-internet farm justice materials available to us today.  The full document can be found here, as a pdf:  "Strengthening the Spirit of America."  The two main parts of it are also available in a searchable form in the two links heading this section.  

The United Farmer and Rancher Congress came out in support of the basic tenets of the Farm Policy Reform Act, which was featured in Neil's letter.  It was voted on in Congress as the Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill.

For Further Reading and Viewing

Mark Ritchie and Kevin Ristau, "Crisis by Design:  A Brief Review of U.S. Farm Policy," League of Rural Voters, 1987.

Brad Wilson, "Farm 'Shock Doctrine?'"

CED, "An Adaptive Program for Agriculture," 1962.

National Family Farm Coalition (video):  "From the Grassroots Up, Not from the Money Down:"  part 1.  See also part 2 & part 3.

League of Rural Voters (Video):  "America's Stake in the 1985 Farm Bill:"  Part 1.  See also part 2 and  part 3.

Catholic Rural Life (Video):  1985 Farm Policy Reform Act:  Part 1: Consumers.  See also part 2: Jobs and Stimulus and part 3: World Poverty and Hunger.

Brad Wilson, "Michael Pollan, Lead the Food Movement to Corn Price Floors." , Change.org: petition.   At zspace see:  "Petition Pollan to Support Harkin-Gephardt."

Brad Wilson (video):  "Michael Pollan Rebuttal:"  Part 1.  Part 2.

Leave a comment