(This introduces and supplements my recent op-ed, linked just below.)
Farm justice, (labeled as a “family farm” point of view,) has not fared well against the dominant narrative in mainstream media in the 21st century, or even in alternative progressive media or among food progressives and other progressives, or among conservatives. Unfortunately almost all of these others misunderstand the issues. Progressives and others on the left unknowingly side with agribusiness against their own values and goals.
My work has been to create ways to counter the dominant narrative, in it’s new, 21st century incarnations, and especially to fix the ways we’ve been so radically divided and conquered.
One piece of this puzzle is to rethink the farm bill. What I offer here is a new kind of proposal that is designed to bring together the forces of justice in the our time: farm justice, food justice, environmental justice, etc.
I’ve made my first statement of this in a new op-ed in The Gazette, (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). Here:
THE FARM BILL VS. THE WATER QUALITY DILEMMA
For this piece, we were asked to keep it to 450 to 500 words. It’s part of a larger series of 12 opinion pieces which were being published over 4 days, Februray 28-March 2. (All were available online as of Sunday, 2/28). Links to the others are shown below.
My piece briefly describes the magnitude of the dilemma of trying to fix Iowa’s agricultural pollution. In fact, throughout the 12 opinion pieces, the magnitude of this dilemma is made clear. On one side the problem is huge. On another, it’s hard to get much government spending to clean up the environment, with Republicans having so much influence in state and federal legislatures. On yet another side, farmers are losing money, and they certainly cannot afford to make the kinds of changes that would fix it.
My piece shows that there is, nevertheless, as governmental solution of great magnitude that could reconcile this dilemma. To do that, however, we must “think outside of the box,” and in a big way. At root, it’s nothing new. It’s just that the activists of today, on all sides don’t seem to know farm bill history. My proposal, then, is a revised version of what we did over many years, especially 1942-1952. See it there.
Here, in this blog, I offer a few additional thoughts. This, then, is my first posting of a farm bill proposal that goes beyond questions of water quality.
First, here are a few further thoughts on water quality. My proposal in The Gazette calls for paying farmers much more fairly, as greater demands are made for on-farm sustainability. This then utilizes market management, which is needed for agriculture anyway, to address this larger issue of the public good.
This contrasts sharply with the views of environmentalists, who are strong on the need to clean and protect the environment, but weak on the political realities of agriculture. They tend to blame the victims, farmers, while totally ignoring the root exploiters, the agribusiness input and output complex, including CAFOs. They almost always see farmers as political winners, when the opposite has been overwhelmingly true. In the end, in siding so strongly with these exploiters and against farmers, environmentalists, as currently acting and thinking, cannot offer workable solutions. From within this false paradigm, they can only offer half truths.
Much the same is happening on the opposite side, the side of agribusiness, and the “Tory” “farmer front groups” that support them at these exploiters at the expense of farmers. We see this in groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, and the American Soybean Association. These groups call for minimizing demands on farmers, for example by making the demands “voluntary.” In this way, they make it sound like they’re on the side of farmers. On the other hand, like environmentalists and other progressives, these groups ALSO do NOT support fair prices for farmers. They even call for reduced farm subsidies.
Both sides are wrong. My proposal offers an alternative.
MARKET MANAGEMENT AS A “POLICY APPROACH”
During the 1990s Loni Kemp laid out four “policy approaches” for problems like water quality in relation to agriculture. In her approach we are to first consider less intrusive measures, and then excalate toward firmer measures as needed. These measures, which were laid out in “Clean Water and Thriving Farms,” are as follows.
1. Voluntary Actions
3. Removal of Barriers
To this I add market management as a fifth policy approach. (See my op-ed.) While market management overlaps with some of the other categories above, it’s also much different than what these others usually mean. Market management is a major additional category, and perhaps the biggest and most important one.
Deregulated ‘free’ markets don’t self correct very well at all, and they haven’t for 150 years. That’s true on both the supply and the demand sides for aggregate agriculture, (for the groups of crops grown in the various regions). For that reason, market management has always been needed. If market management is also used to address public goods like water quality, that also helps farmers through the difficult transition that is needed to reverse the farm bill damage of the past 60 years. (See more on these points in my op-ed.)
AGE, RACE, SEX AND STARVATION: FURTHER MARKET MANAGEMENT SOLUTIONS
I propose that market management should be used to address other important public goods, such as compensation for past and current harms caused by US farm policy and programs in the context of our society.
For example, the farm bill, which has driven farm prices down below the cost of production for more than 30 years, has been a huge barrier to young and beginning farmers. As a result, we’ve seen the age of farmers rise drastically. It’s a mistake to try to fix this without fixing the larger problem of cheap farm prices, which then change the structure of farming toward “old man farming” methods, (which require more capital but less labor,) and away from the methods that are most suitable for young farmers. (Cf. https://zcomm.org/zblogs/farm-justice-for-beginning-farmers/, a critique of a “beginning farmer” proposal from the Land Stewardship Project). If you use other policy approaches, but ignore basic market management, you set up young and beginning farmers for failure. (Much the same holds for local and organic farmers, whose premium prices must compete against ever cheaper “conventional” prices.)
The historical challenges against minority, women and other disadvantaged farmers can also be addressed via market mangement. For example, as in the case of water quality, (in my op-ed,) market management reductions in supply can be designed with these needs in mind. These farmers, like beginning farmers, can be helped by requiring them to take smaller portions of their farms out of production.
Something similar to this needs to be negotiated internationally. In the past we’ve given food aid, and that should continue, as needed. At the same time, the underlying cause of rural hunger needs to be addressed: rural poverty. As it turns out, 80% of the global “undernourished” are rural, mostly farmers, as is 70% of the populaiton of Least Developed Countries. The usual solution is to “feed the world,” but for these poverty farm economies, that’s basically a call to further overproduction and cheap prices, to further poverty. To “feed the world” in this way has been to starve the world.
Inside of the United States (and inside of Europe,) we need market management. We need Price Floors backed up by suppy reductions as needed. At the same time, we need topside Price Ceilings, backed up by strategic Reserve Supplies.
The same thing is needed globally. We need global fair trade agreements that utilize market management to prevent oversupply and that set a floor under prices, even as they store reserves to be placed on the market when Price Ceiling levels are reached, in times of shortage.
At the same time, however, regions like subsaharan Africa need special market management provisions to compensate for the damage that has been done to the most vulnerable under the rapacious period of increasing deregulation and neoliberalism. All farmers have been colonized, including the United States farm economy. Places like the Least Developed Countries of Africa, however, have been overwhelmingly agricultural, and have been devastated much more severely. As we all cut back on production to balance supply and demand, they need to be allowed to increase production, as their share has been chronically low, due to chronic poverty and it’s impacts on their infrastructure and other agricultural investments.
This two-part series, my op-ed, (linked above,) and this follow up piece, introduce part of the general outline of my farm bill proposal. In the past, proposals like the Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill could have been passed to great public benefit, as abundant evidence has shown. Unfortunately, they were rejected. Now we need to present Congress and trade negotiators with a new proposal. In the language of negotiation, we need to ask a different question, one they’ve never answered. My proposal does that.
One other new kind of proposal has been offered by the National Farmers Union (USA). The key older proposal that’s out there now comes from the National Family Farm Coaliton (USA). (On these see: https://zcomm.org/zblogs/primer-farm-justice-proposals-for-the-2012-farm-bill-by-brad-wilson/) These have been the best proposals out there, the only good ones.
Unfortunately, food progressives and environmentalists along with hunger advoctes, churches, conservatives, mainstream media, and others, have not known about these proposals or the magnitude of their significance, or the masses of evidence that has supported. They’ve settled instead for irrelevant and ill-informed (neoliberal) analysis surrounding the subsidy question.
The problem, then is the new dominant narrative that blocks us in the 21st century, dividing and conquering us, with vast numbers unknowingly siding with agribusiness against farmers. Out of this, however, farmers have more potential urban side support than ever, many many times more. These new others know some essential things about “cheap food” and “cheap corn.” On the other hand, out of the new dominant narrative, they “know” way too much that “just ain’t so.” It’s time we taught them how to think outside of the box.
LINKS TO THE OTHER 12 WATER QUALITY PIECES
“Cleaning up our water: Comparing Iowa’s water quality improvement plans,” Staff Editorial, Feb 28, 2016. Gazette editorials reflect the consensus opinion of The Gazette Editorial Board. Share your comments and ideas with us:(319) 398-8469 http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/staff-editorial/cleaning-up-our-water-20160228
These (below) are the people chosen to speak to the Gazette Editorial Board on the clean water issue (Rob Hogg by phone; Jennifer Terry from the Des Moines Water Works attended but see Graham Gillette from DMWbelow).
“Listen to Iowans: Fund the Trust for clean water,” Ann Robinson, Feb 28, 2016. Ann Robinson, Iowa Environmental Council Agricultural Policy Specialist, was raised on a diversified century farm in Missouri, and helped manage a small farm in northeast Iowa for several years. She has degrees in agricultural journalism and natural resources planning, and has worked for private conservation groups, Extension and state government. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/listen-to-iowans-fund-the-trust-for-clean-water-20160228
“Work together to improve Iowa’s water quality,” Ron Corbett, Feb 28, 2016. Ron Corbett is mayor of Cedar Rapids and president of Engage Iowa. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/work-together-to-improve-iowas-water-quality-20160228
“Mandatory or voluntary, conservation for water quality needs big bucks,” Curt Zingula, Feb 28, 2016. Curt Zingula is a Linn Co. grain farmer, Director on Iowa’s Watershed Improvement Review Board, and past President of Linn Co. Farm Bureau. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/mandatory-or-voluntary-conservation-for-water-quality-needs-big-bucks-20160228
“Iowa needs real clean water solutions,” Sen. Rob Hogg, Feb 28, 2016. Rob Hogg is a state senator representing District 33 in Cedar Rapids. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/iowa-needs-real-clean-water-solutions-20160228
“Benchmarks and accountability needed to clean up Iowa’s waterways,” Graham Gillette, Feb 28, 2016. Graham Gillette is chairman of the Des Moines Water Works board of trustees. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/benchmarks-and-accountability-needed-to-clean-up-iowas-waterways-20160228
Other some proposals were mentioned with someone from above explaining them. (Bolkcom, Thicke, below)
“Create a new checkoff to fund critical water quality efforts in Iowa,” Joe Bolkcom, Jan 12, 2016. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) is Iowa Senate Majority Whip and chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/create-a-new-checkoff-to-fund-critical-water-quality-efforts-in-iowa-20160112
“Water quality woes can be reversed,” Francis Thicke, Mar 21, 2015 (This proposal was discussed at the meeting.) Francis Thicke is a soil scientist and farmer from Fairfield, who served as national program leader for soil science for the USDA Extension Service. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/water-quality-woes-can-be-reversed-20150321
Gazette Writers Circle: The Writers Circle was also invited to the meeting, and to write about it.
“Iowa’s Water Quality: The role of federal farm policies” Brad Wilson, Feb 28, 2016. Brad Wilson farms part-time near Springville, and works on federal farm bill issues. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/iowas-water-quality-the-role-of-federal-farm-policies-20160228
“Iowa Water Quality: Agribusiness must be part of the solution,”Russ Gerst, Feb 28, 2016. Russ Gerst farms in Southeastern Iowa with his parents. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/iowa-water-quality-agribusiness-must-be-part-of-the-solution-20160228
“Iowa Water Quality: Larger forces are at work,” Michael Richards, Feb 28, 2016. Michael Richards is an entrepreneur and community activist who has lived in the Corridor for 20 years. He is a member of the Gazette Writers Circle. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/iowa-water-quality-larger-forces-are-at-work-20160228
“Iowa water quality: Where is the urgency?” Les Deal, Feb 28, 2016. Les Deal, of Cedar Rapids, has a masters degree in biology. He is a retired remodeling contractor and a member of the Gazette Writers Circle. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/iowa-water-quality-where-is-the-urgency-20160228
“Water quality: Let’s start with some basic facts,” Nicholas Johnson, Gazette Writers Circle, Feb 28, 2016. Nicholas Johnson, a former FCC commissioner, writes about public policy in FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com and maintains www.nicholasjohnson.org. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/water-quality-lets-start-with-some-basic-facts-20160228