Small farmers are bearing the brunt of the tariff war at the same time that they are exploited by agribusiness consolidation & predatory lending rates from Wall St. bankers. They voted for Trump to take care them, but he has failed them.
Before we get to the focus of today’s post: how Trump’s tariff policies and hands-off on banking regulation are absolutely killing small farmers across the country, four brief announcements.
Retake Our Democracy on KSFR 101.1 FM, Saturdays 8:30am– 9 am. On February 22, Roxanne and I did our annual Roundhouse Roundup. The full 45-minute podcast will be available on Monday. On Feb 15, we had Lorne Stockman, Sr. Research Analyst for Oil Change International and author of Drilling to Disaster, an analysis of the impact of fracking on US non-efforts to combat the climate crisis. On Feb 8, we had Dahr Jamail on the show. Dahr is an international respected climate change author and I think this show was perhaps the most important and most compelling of all the shows over the past 3 years. Upcoming shows include Feb 29 with Tabatha Hirsch, SF Prep student who led a student-driven process to develop HB 173, a remarkable gas tax bill. Joining her will be Marc Reynolds, SF Prep teacher who supported the work. On March 7, Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard will be on the show.
You can access any of our podcasts by clicking here.
Resistance and Peacemaking, Sunday, February 23rd, from 10:30am to 11:30am, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation located at 107 Barcelona, where Barcelona ends at Galisteo in Santa Fe will offer a special Sunday service devoted to Resistance and Peacemaking. Instead of a “conventional” sermon, the centerpiece of the service will be a conversation among four activists, moderated by Rev. Gail Marriner. Following the service, attendees will be encouraged to stay and talk with the four activists as well as representatives of other peace-and-justice organizations who we hope will be in attendance.
Tuesday, March 17, 6:30-8:30 pm, Retake Our Democracy Community Meeting: Roundhouse Debrief and 2020 Primary and General Election Campaigns. We will begin with a debrief of the 2020 Legislative Session, but a good amount of time will be devoted to planning for the 2020 elections. The 2020 election could be the most important election of our lives, so this is a critical meeting, even if you don’t care a whit about the legislative session. We will lay out plans for how you can be involved in the NM state primary and in the national election and our effort to depose the despot. This would be a good meeting for you to invite a couple friends to and coax them into getting active for June and November. Eric Griego will be on hand to explain how Working Families Party NM is planning for the state primary.
Voices of Los Alamos: on Mon., Feb. 24, 6:30 PM at the Unitarian Church in Los Alamos, you’ll have a chance to hear from State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque about how the All Payer Global Hospital Budgeting approach works. This may sound dry, but Jerry is anything but dry and this is a critical issue for creating equity in hospital services, particularly for rural NM. Unfortunately, time ran out on SM 9, the bill that would have advanced global hospital budgeting. But I am sure it will be back in 2021, as it is so important to creating equity between urban and rural hospital systems. So if you live in Los Alamos, check it out.
Small Farmers Get Killed by Trump Policies: Progressive Dems Can Exploit This In the Election
Lately, I’ve spent an awful lot of time talking with rural New Mexico legislators. They complain of the city-rural divide in the state, with city dwellers not appreciating the degree to which we all rely on a rural economy and do not appreciate the challenges involved in rural life.
One conversation in particular focused on Retake activism in support of an electric vehicle tax credit viewed by rural legislators as an elite benefit for those who can afford $30-50,000 electric vehicles while tax credit bills that would benefit rural communities linger and die. Retake will continue its outreach to rural communities and incorporate more of their concerns in Priority bills and other advocacy going forward.
I’d been mulling this for two weeks when The Nation published “Rural America Doesn’t Need to Starve to Death.” The article references a resentment in America’s heartland similar to the rural-urban divide expressed by NM rural legislators, except it is framed in terms of “coastside elites” and “struggling family farmers and ranchers.”
The article goes on to detail very clearly how the conflict is NOT between urban and rural or between coastside elites and family farmers, but between rural communities and a monopoly comprised of agribusiness and Wall St. that is systematically extracting approximately $150 billion annually from small farmers and depositing that wealth in overseas tax shelters or in investments that do nothing to sustain local rural economies.
If we are to have true empathy for rural challenges, we must first understand them. Today’s post relies heavily on The Nation piece, which presents an almost impossible combination of intentional policies and business practices that are starving rural America.
Likely you’ve read about the impact of the tariff war on the entire agricultural industry and especially on small farmers. But there are other Trump policies that conspire to make the tariff impact even worse. And it appears to be an intentional effort to squash small farmers and consolidate big Ag. But before outlining how agribusiness decimates rural America financially, we need to examine its impact on the local environment.
CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations, are sometimes called factory farms. In each one, thousands of pigs (or tens of thousands of chickens) are packed tightly together in stinking ammonia-laden darkness, stuffed with antibiotics, their manure falling through slatted floors, and coalescing in pits where it rots anaerobically into a toxic stew that is then spread on fields as fertilizer, raising a stinking haze that can send nearby residents fleeing indoors.
This animal sewage also pollutes local water sources. Much of it ends up in the Gulf of Mexico, where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned last June that it contributed to a dead zone (an area devoid of marine life) about the size of New Jersey. ” See the picture below. “The Nation: “Rural America Doesn’t Have to Starve To Death”
While we are, of course, concerned about this environmental catastrophe, the remainder of the post outlines how agribusiness and Wall St conspire to starve rural America by draining it of most of its wealth and subjugating it to what should be criminal lending and business practices.
Farmers have as much reason to be angry, if not more, because of the larger, less visible financial flows heading in the other direction, sucked out of their pockets and funneled to the big money centers, often into offshore tax havens. This is part of a broader phenomenon affecting the entire economy, which I call the finance curse. The good news is that this can be decisively reversed without turning the clock back on progress—and with transformative economic and political results.”The Nation: “Rural America Doesn’t Have to Starve To Death”
At the end of the piece, we present the nascent grassroots efforts that are organizing rural America and the opportunity to form alliances with small farmers across NM and nation. But first a look at the erosion of family farmer profit and wealth and the economic deterioration of rural economies.
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, median on-farm income (as opposed to off-farm income, from working other jobs) has averaged a negative $1,569 per year from 1996 to 2017. More than half of farm households now lose money from farming. They keep going only because family members work other jobs. “The Nation: “Rural America Doesn’t Have to Starve To Death”
But while the income of farmers has decreased, over the same period overall agricultural output has increased by 250-300%. Mechanization, genetic manipulation (ugh), and advances in information technology have increased profit….for the big guys, while squeezing out small farmers. Four factors compound the challenges faced by small farmers:
- First, agribusiness corrupts or destroys markets. In 1993, nearly 90 percent of hogs were sold on competitive markets, according to the Open Markets Institute. In the 90s meat-packers relied on independent pig farmers, with those independent farmers having real leverage to command a sustainable price for their hogs. Today, 90% of the hogs produced are sold in “vertical integrated meat processing syndicates” that are able to control the market, forcing independent farmers to accept very low prices;
- Second, ranchers are often relegated to roles that they call “hog house janitors,” tied up by contracts with industry firms that amount to extortion. Cedar Rapids lawyer Tom L. Fiegen described these contracts as “pages of things that shift the risk from the [agribusiness firm] to them.” There is “basically no choice” in the contracts. “Everything is dictated.”
- Third, agribusiness is able to control the flow of federal farm subsidies, ensuring they are the benefactors, not smaller farmers, further breeding dependence.
- Fourth, decades ago, most agricultural wealth remained in Midwestern farming communities. Farmers bought seeds, tools, groceries, vehicles, and insurance from local suppliers and used local veterinary services, banks, shops, and restaurants. But in the 1980s with the elimination of anti-monopoly legislation, agribusiness consolidated the entire supply chain, building in more profit for them while economically decimating rural communities. Businesses simply disappeared.
The conditions under which small farmers and rural Americans exist has been largely ignored by politicians in Washington, politicians who feed off the teats of Agribusiness and Wall Street. A simmering fury developed and it was focused squarely on Washington, and so when Trump promised to “drain the swamp,” that message resonated in rural America. But Trump has clearly not drained the swamp and his ill-conceived tariff war has only further decimated rural America. What’s more, his hand-picked cabinet, those who were supposed to replace those drained from the swamp, have hardly been sympathetic to the plight of the small farmer. In typical market-driven capitalist drivel:
“What we see, obviously, is economies of scale having happened in America,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said approvingly last October. “Big get bigger, and small go out.”The Nation: “Rural America Doesn’t Have to Starve To Death”
Fortunately, there is an antidote to the capitalist forces that are squeezing the life out of rural America: local grassroots organizing.
Grassroots groups like Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, which fights against CAFOs, can be viewed not as antibusiness troublemakers, as their opponents claim, but as promoters of economic (and environmental) prosperity. More promisingly, a thrilling anti-monopoly movement has recently emerged, spearheaded by groups such as the Open Markets Institute, which attacks wealth-extracting monopolization across the economy, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, which tackles agribusinesses. In politics, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have put forth powerful, detailed, and welcome proposals to curb Big Agribusiness, heralding a possible shift from half a century of US farm policy. Efforts to eliminate tax havens and other extractive financial tools must be similarly energized. Besides boosting American prosperity, such interventions could reduce political polarization. “
The same alliances being forged in the heartland of America can be forged here in NM. The first step in this process must be an exercise in listening. NM is not Iowa, Kansas, or Oklahoma. Rural NM may be impacted by challenges similar to the rest of rural America, but there are also educational, environmental, and cultural differences that must be understood. Retake plans to reach out to leadership in rural NM and see if there might not be more common ground between progressive activists seeking economic and environmental justice and New Mexico’s rural economies being oppressed by agribusiness, gas and oil, and Wall St.
Right now the gas and oil spigot may be bringing a significant economic boon to parts of NM, but when the spigot runs dry those communities will be abandoned to their own devices. We need to forge alliances based on trust and sustained communication.
In closing, Trump came from nowhere in the polls in 2015-16 by tapping into a mythology of “us vs them.” Unfortunately, Trump and his policies are far more aligned with “them” than with “us.” There is a 2020 candidate however who for forty years has spoken for us and according to polls, he is the most trusted politician in America. His “us vs them” mythology is more genuine, it reverberates with the kind of homespun wisdom of Jim Hightower and it could easily resonate with rural America. Stay tuned. Where there are common foes, alliances can be formed and power built.
Paul & Roxanne