Freedom to Fail How U.S. Farming Policies Have Helped Agribusiness

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at
Tue Oct 31 14:57:17 MST 2000

Full Article at

Multinational Monitor


Freedom to Fail How U.S. Farming Policies Have Helped Agribusiness And
Pushed  Family Farmers Toward Extinction

Ben Lilliston and Niel Ritchie work at the Minneapolis-based Institute
for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

By Ben Lilliston and Niel Ritchie

***George Naylor's family traveled to Green County, Iowa from England in
the 1880s. They farmed on other  people's land until 1919 when they
bought their own farm. Now, in face of a growing farm crisis, George
Naylor is battling to keep his family's 560-acre farm alive. "Now that
prices have gone to heck, we're not getting any
 money at all," Naylor says. "We don't buy anything we don't need."

 Naylor's experience is typical of most U.S. farmers who have been sold
down the river by a calculated U.S. farm policy that directly benefits
large agribusiness companies and factory-style farming at the expense of
family farms. The farm crisis has hit home literally, with plunging farm
prices -- the bane of family farmers for centuries
 -- forcing most farm families to work off the farm to survive.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, almost 90 percent of
the total income of rancher or farmer households now comes from outside

 "We've been looking for other jobs," says Naylor. "Almost everyone in
my neighborhood has other jobs."

The driving force behind U.S. farm policy is the 1996 seven-year farm
program titled the Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act --
with the ironic acronym (FAIR). The bill, dubbed "Freedom to Farm" by
its bipartisan proponents, put an end to the New Deal system of
production controls and eliminates federal price supports. It provides
farmers with a guarantee of fixed but declining payments to end in 2002,
and allows flexibility to plant whatever they like.

 Prior to Freedom to Farm, if the price for a market commodity -- such
as soy, wheat or corn -- dipped below the price floor, the government
would cover the difference, thus ensuring that price wouldn't fall below
the cost of production. Freedom to Farm eliminated price floors and
removed "production controls" including land set asides and farmer-owned
grain reserves. By giving farmers some ability to limit the amount of
commodities on the market, these policies had given farmers some control
over the price for their crops. Finally, the FAIR legislation gradually
transitions away to the point of eliminating farm programs after the
year 2002.

The effects of Freedom to Farm have been immediate and devastating.
Proponents touted the program as a way  to increase exports and the
price of crops. But "Freedom to Farm" has failed miserably on both
accounts. Exports of corn, wheat, soybeans and sorghum have dropped by
nearly 10 percent since enactment of Freedom to Farm. More importantly,
prices have collapsed, with corn going from $3.24 a bushel in 1995-1996
to $1.90 in 1999-2000, wheat dropping from $4.55 to $2.50, soybeans
declining from $6.72 to $4.70 and sorghum plummeting from $3.19 to


Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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