NOTE: On Sept. 7, 2019, 37 Land Stewardship Project member-farmers and leaders came together in St. Peter, Minn., to discuss direct ways of addressing the current farm crisis. Below is the statement these members developed as a guideline on how to move forward to address this crisis:
A Real Farm Crisis
Farmers are facing an economic crisis that is entering its sixth year. Farm families are often unable to even earn back what it took to plant a crop, to raise the livestock, or to produce the milk that is their source of income. This unsustainable situation is severely undermining the foundation of independent farming and the communities it supports, as well as overall stewardship, fairness, and justice.
Some stark facts:
- The 2018 median farm income for U.S. farm households was negative $1,533.
- For six years, more than half of farmers and ranchers have lost money on their crops or herds.
- 70 percent of the total income of farm families comes from off-farm sources.
Some root causes of this farm crisis are clear and agreed upon:
- Farmers not getting a fair price for what they produce or a fair share of the food dollar.
- Corporate monopolies exercising their extractive nature on both sides of the farm produce/input equation, along with the USDA’s disregard for fulfilling its role as enforcer of farm economic fairness.
- Cooperatives asserting power over their members rather than power for them.
- Unaffordable cost of healthcare for farmers and other self-employed people.
The pain of this crisis is not being felt by agribusiness and corporate interests that continue to make profits at the expense of farmers and rural communities. The fact is that there is money in agriculture, but farmers are not getting anywhere close to a fair share of the economic benefits being generated by the food they labor to produce on the land.
Failure to address the destruction of farm-level profitability is not acceptable and is producing devastating results. The combined impact of these structural forces — left to play out without intervention from our elected representatives, our public officials, and farmers themselves — may very well lead to the extinction of the next wave of the kinds of small- to mid-sized farm operations, particularly family dairy farmers, that are the source of vitality for rural communities. Long-term food security and environmental stewardship require more farmers, not less, and stronger rural communities, not weaker ones.
Farmers & Allies Must Unify & Speak Out
It is time farmers receive a fair price for the products they produce, and commodity groups and farm organizations need to refocus their policy initiatives on the importance of keeping family farmers on the land.
To bring about such initiatives, farmers and their allies must unify and amplify their voices. Solutions to the farm crisis must start on the farm.
Farmers must start listening to each other, rather than agribusiness leaders, whose interest is not the interest of farmers or the communities they support. Farmers and their allies must unite around a common cause, and work to advance their own personal and community self-economic interest, as well as further the interest of farmers beyond their own communities who represent a diversity of farming approaches and a diversity of backgrounds. LSP believes that racial justice is deeply connected to economic justice for farmers and rural people, which is why we’re committed to engaging in racial justice work, alongside our allies, as we address the ongoing farm crisis. This is the source of our strength, our resilience, our solutions, and our power.
From Our Minnesota Governor, Legislature & Attorney General We Demand:
1) State officials must strengthen our Minnesota Farm Advocates program so farmers know their rights. Minnesota needs to double the number of farm advocates to meet Minnesota farmers’ needs. This program puts farmers first and lets farmers know their rights when the bankers come for the farm and farm equipment. In addition, The Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG) needs funding to support the training of farm advocates and provide legal resources to farmers in financial trouble.
2) The Minnesota Attorney General’s office must use its authority to investigate farmer-owned cooperatives that have turned their backs on the farmers who created them. The Attorney General’s office, in its investigation or in its recommendation for legislation, should address these immediate needs of family farmers:
• Farm cooperatives must return to their original purpose that all family farmers be treated equally in the buying of farm inputs and the selling of farm products. No special deals for large producers.
• No cooperative mergers or acquisitions should be allowed without all farmer members being allowed to vote.
3) Farmers need accessible opportunities to restructure loans. The Minnesota Legislature should pass policy that covers the origination fee required of small- and mid-sized farmers who are in severe financial stress and thus are refinancing farm debt and obtaining guaranteed loans through the USDA Farm Service Agency.
4) A moratorium on massive dairies over 1,000 animal units. The Governor must instruct the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to pass a moratorium on issuing permits for construction of any dairy over 1,000 animal units until the water pollution threat posed by these large operations and the price-depressing effects of overproduction are both addressed.
5) Affordable healthcare for farmers and rural communities. The Governor and Legislature must take bold and immediate steps to expand public healthcare coverage and directly help people facing unaffordable costs, poor coverage, and high deductibles on the private market.
From Our Federal Leaders We Demand:
1) End corporate mega-mergers. All of our representatives in the U.S. Congress, and especially the ones who serve on the House and Senate agriculture committees, must take a stand and pass a moratorium on any pending corporate ag mergers, and address economic fairness within the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) and the broader regulatory authority related to anti-trust in agriculture.
2) Establish a supply management system for grain, with a loan rate at 95 percent of production costs.
3) Implement short-term dairy relief and a long-term structural solution for small- and mid-sized dairies as proposed during the “Dairy Together” Roadshow in Greenwald, Minn., on April 29, 2019 (hosted by the National Farmers Organization and Wisconsin Farmers Union, and co-hosted by Minnesota Farmers Union).
4) Federal farm subsidies should have payment limits and should be tied to stewardship. We should not have a system where 80 percent of farm payments go to 5 percent of the farmers.
5) Enact Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), which is missing in the current draft of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
6) The USDA’s Farm Service Agency must offer 40-year fixed farmland loans with below-market interest rates to those groups of beginning farmers who are at a significant competitive disadvantage when it comes to accessing land — women, farmers of color, veterans, and farmers with limited capital resources.
We Must Take Action Together
Addressing the disaster that is decimating farming communities will require an increasing number of community meetings and actions small and large. We must build the power of farmer and rural community voices to the level required to make effective demands of our elected representatives and public officials, and get the concrete actions required to meet the severity of this current economic crisis. The Land Stewardship Project is prepared, along with our allies, to lead and support the groundswell of action needed to bring about an equitable farm economy grounded in family farm viability, land stewardship, and community — both in this immediate time of farm crisis, and as a foundation for the future.