Small Farmers Exploited by Wall St: A Potential Election Opportunity

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.

Click here to read a most interesting article from The Nation, “Rural America Doesn’t Have to Starve to Death.”

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

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4 replies

  1. I could not get behind the electric vehicle tax credit for exactly the same reason.

    Unfortunantely, many bills that would have helped low-income New Mexicans died this year.

  2. One of the most exciting movements in this arena is the growth of “Regenerative Agriculture” which has many components and different approaches. But in essence it is to return to building up the soil’s health and microbial infrastructure by: no till cultivation, armoring the soil with plant residue, using multiple types of cover crops between cash crops, keeping roots in the soil all the time, and integrating animals in the rotation. One exciting result is that soil carbon will increase from 2% to as much as 7-10%. Think how many gigaton of carbon would be removed from the atmosphere if all the original grasslands in the west were returned to their natural state. For further information watch any You Tube by Gabe Brown, North Dakota to see how small and large farmers can farm productively without spending money on GMO seeds, herbicides, and insecticides. In Taos, NM we are beginning to implement this approach on an experimental basis with some help from the State of NM.

  3. This squeeze on non-industrial farmers jumped up, as you noted, in the 1980s with Reagan-era neo-liberal deregulation. There were lots of news stories about family farms going bankrupt; fuel, fertilizer, and pesticide costs were too high.
    I remember reading an article in Harper’s, I think it was, about a farmer who was about to go out of business due to this kind of debt. He turned his farm around by cutting back from 1,600 acres to 300 acres under cultivation, selling off diesel equipment, and literally going back to horse-drawn machinery. He also stopped applying industrial chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and he began to make a good profit.

  4. Unfortunately a lot of those rural farmers, have limited access to fact based news. The few remaining newspapers are mostly biased to the right, especially here in new Mexico. I started watching some of the Ag information and news channels, all biased towards industry. None of them cover what is happening to small farmers and rural communities, instead they show a few farmers who made it. The one in a thousand that bought some product or lucked out. Of course the advertisers are all big Ag corporations like ADM.

    Dumpf was able to channel the real but ignored anger, and despair, like he did elsewhere. The constant stream of corporate media, pointed the anger away from the real culprits, and at the so called elites. You can drive through any of these areas, and they are all visibly in decline. Ramshackle mobile homes, no new housing or infrastructure, fast food joints and dollar stores. The few remaining Main Streets, taken over by payday lenders, random religious groups, and small gimmicky businesses. like CBD sales. 40 years ago, before Neo Liberalism, there would have been markets, a bank, a bakery, and a hardware store. All of this has been replaced by a big box store, on the outskirts of town. The only “jobs” are minimum wage at the only retailer in town. This is all gone, except for in the very exclusive neighborhoods, where the rich live.

    This years Legislature showed just how compromised and out of touch our legislators are. It is unclear if the educational funding, even meets the level required by the Yazzie lawsuit. They did a few paltry things for the low income people, but nothing systemic. Not passing that gasoline tax, is going to cost low income people more than 1100 a year, in car repairs. It only benefits the big businesses, as usual. The tax refund for families, is another one that benefits the corporation as much as the families. A way to supplement low wages, and dead end jobs, while keeping wages low. Of course it is only for the deserving poor, hard working families.

    Not a one of them paid attention to what is going on in DC, cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and more disruptions to the agencies that were supposed to protect us. There was a time when the US had a functioning government, prior to the Reganomics, and Neo Liberal insanity. Schools were funded, roads were built, and average Americans could afford a home. Farmers were not in desperation, seeking out dangerous, and deceptive contracts with the few remaining mega corporation for cheaper products. Now the food is killing us, cheap high sugar processed food is not a “choice” in many places.

    Another friend of mine died, due to the stress working two or more jobs in the Gig Economy in Santa Fe. He was in his 50″s, and a vegetarian. I mention the vegetarianism because people tend to judge people’s “lifestyles.” He was a white guy, they are dropping like flies too, mostly due to stress and the imposed individualism in Neo Liberal society. He probably went to an acupuncturist, who was only concerned about the money. They would have given him some ridiculous explanation for whatever eventually killed him. Facts are not profitable. We only hear about these deaths, when they are famous or when they do something outrageous. Most of these deaths are quiet deaths of despair, suicide or attributed to “overdoses.” Just the like the murdered children, another one in Albuquerque, all explained away. All of these premature deaths are sacrifices on the altar of Mammon.

    The legislature questioned funds to early childhood programs, and did nothing about CYFD. Our governor has years of experience in these state agencies, yet no clue what the problem is. There was another child death, where CYFD had been involved prior to the death. Our economy and our nation are preying on the most vulnerable, for more tax breaks to help billionaires. All the while they keep blaming the poor, the progressives and other random factors. Every time there is child death, they immediately move the public towards punishment, not examination. I doubt there will be any faith leaders doing a real Jeremiad on any of this today either.

    Someone wrote that the people criticizing the progressives have no imagination, It rings true. Imagine a world where a mother would not have to leave her infant with her drug addicted angry part time boyfriend. Imagine communities where people walk to the store, rather than drive. Imagine a community where a short drive across town, does not expose us to people begging to survive.

    Yesterday this was in the local paper. There is nothing new here, an underfunded, understaffed, charity, that does not have the resources, or the inclination to deal with this kind of mental illness. They would be able to claim they placed these people, to keep the funders, the city and the Neo Liberals happy. Local news would tell us about the great jobs they do, while the small landlords who take them in, would get stuck. The large out of state corporations, like the ones where Mr Benevidez lived, until he was shot 17 times, have all of their assets covered, and the help of the courts and police.

    These people cycled in and out of housing, jailed or evicted, but it looked like they were housing people. A lot of them don’t have the skills to live alone, but the non profits would cross their fingers and hope. Some can not even prepare a meal, or take their meds on time. No one working in the system noticed, they had to present an alternate version in order to get funding. Some of these people would be victimized, beaten raped, or their families who were supposed to be their payees, would make off with their money and do no supervision. Of course there was no one to call when the families could not cope either.

    The cops were always happy to help the big corporate landlords, when it came to locals, they would be the ones in trouble. Some of these people were addicted to drugs, and in Santa Fe, that usually meant no follow up, just Methadone or Bupenorphin and they are on their way. The old methadone program, sent them out after their dose, with nowhere to go. Some of them supplemented the Methadone with alcohol or other drugs, and caused trouble, the cops could not be bothered with them, they had nothing to seize, so they would go after the people they were tormenting. No caseworker would deal with any of this, they were not paid enough, and not helped by the non profit they worked for.

    This problem when no for years, alienating families, ruining lives, and all the while the courts pretended that the agencies were functioning. It was all Gaslighting, to make it appear that some random charity or faith based group was more than enough to handle these systemic problems. More and more people are appearing on the traffic medians, more homeless everywhere, there is data to support that. Our legislature did nothing this year, in spite of the Fact that DC did nothing either.

    NeoLiberalism and compromise with establishment Democrats or republicans is literally killing people. They want us to blame the parents and the perpetrators for the dead children, the people who were traumatized and grew up in the system themselves. No one at CYFD understands their role. They hired old people past retirement age, who had credentials. It was cheaper to hire inexperienced, confused and unconscious recent grads. There are even a few religious zeolots on their staff, if they see a Bible they believe the child is OK, even when they show up tortured to death a few months later. CYFD does not even have access to qualified employees, after it was eviscerated by the Martinez and Richardson administrations. It is pretty obvious that nothing has improved, except for their PR.

    More CYFD in the news of course we only get bits and pieces.

    Reminder: There are no regulations, in the treatment industry, no government agencies keep track of the deaths, that is inconvenient, and not very profitable. Outcomes are not measured either, like the Mental Health industry, tracking outcomes could make the business look bad. Anyone who observes the outcomes, is only reporting anecdotal evidence, because there is nothing else.

    Adversity porn, individual experiences will be different! I know that Jolene means well, but telling us about the one who succeeded is not benefiting anyone, except the advertisers.
    This is real life,

    What they left out, not doing any follow up, was that vulnerable family members were contacted by unscrupulous treatment providers, their data was compiled, along with their insurance data, and net worth. An assortment of hucksters, quack alternative practitioners, peddled everything from at home withdrawal remedies, to high end clinics. Preying on the desperate and vulnerable is profitable. The For Profit model, is killing people and no one cares.

    Meanwhile here is the AJ version of Veteran suicides,
    2011 This was the year they paid millions for “Resilience Training” peddled by a “Positive Psychologist. Active Duty suicides have increased since then.
    None of these articles mentioned pain, only PTSD, or distress, now that there is lawsuit, but the facts are in short supply.


    Every Day we get Gas-lighted!

    Children and young people are killing themselves too.

    Most of the “research’ that claimed social media and smart phones were benign, was done by academics who were funded by the big tech corporations or wished to be.

    I guess they don’t have any statisticians working for state government on these topics anyway, This is from last year, and marijuana has had Zero impact on opioid addiction. It was a good marketing ploy though. In New Mexico, like the rest of the US, no public health issue is off limits for squeezing a few bucks out of the vulnerable. The corporate media has not explained the effects of deregulation, on healthcare. Most of the Boomer Generation still believes there are regulations. Pharma advertising rails against the few remaining regulations, while dumpf and his industry insiders get rid of them.

    Think about it! When was the last time they used the word NEOLIBERAL anywhere in New Mexico, or in the national media?

    We have no Alternative Media here, none!

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