Monday, August 24, 2009

An update on Farm Aid's policy work

JenFarm Aid founders Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young have often said that when they started Farm Aid back in 1985 they thought they would have a concert to call attention to the farm crisis and that the folks who create farm policy would wake up and fix things. Clearly that hasn't happened and yet they've stuck with it, remaining dedicated to family farmers for 24 years now

What has kept them working for change for all these years? Farmers for one thing — the determination and dedication, and oftentimes sheer faith that keeps them planting seeds of hope each year and working for policy change and grassroots activism in their spare time (and if you know anything about agriculture, you know there isn't much of that on the farm!). And I think the small wins here and there have kept Willie, John, Neil and Dave inspired—because those small wins add up to real change over the long-haul.

It can be frustrating to work for change in the policy arena—efforts are often huge and overarching and rarely is the win as comprehensive as desired. But each win is step in the right direction. This year, Farm Aid has seen incremental change on many of the family-farm issues we've been working on. While our efforts continue on all of our initiatives, we have made some good progress that we'd like to share. Today, let's take a look at farm loan restructuring.

When President Obama made efforts to reduce the number of home foreclosures this winter, Farm Aid and its partners moved to ensure that farmers received the same protection as homeowners. Family farms are both a business and a home, and farmers are often required to list their home as collateral for any farm loans they take out. In a bad economy like this one, that puts farmers at risk of not only losing their business, but their home too.

Farm Aid sent a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury and the USDA to ask that banks receiving federal bailout funds be required to restructure farm loans so that farmers would not be at risk of losing their homes. We received support from Senators Feingold and Gillibrand and 17 others who followed our lead and sent a letter to the USDA and Treasury. Feingold and Gillibrand also commissioned a study that confirmed that farmers are indeed under economic stress. The study found that the worsening farm credit situation is making it increasingly difficult for farm families to stay on their farms and in their homes. In fact, the report states that "some parts of the agricultural economy, most notably dairy, are in crisis." As a result, Feingold has stated that he will continue working for protections for farmers and specifically to encourage the Obama administration to boost the dairy floor price, another issue Farm Aid has been working on, which we'll take a look at coming up.

Tomorrow, stay tuned for an update on our work to make sure farmers have accessible and affordable credit to plant their seeds.

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