Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The White House Tells Farm Aid: We Heard You Loud and Clear

AliciaWith drought, flooding, increasing production costs and the corporate stranglehold over our food and farm system, it’s a tough time to be a family farmer. But it’s a promising sign that our government wants to help them a bit. A few weeks ago, Farm Aid traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with key White House staff and the newly-formed White House Rural Council—a critical group of economic and policy advisors to the President that also includes staff from the U.S. Treasury, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other government agencies.

As Farm Aid’s representative, I joined the National Family Farm Coalition, Food & Water Watch, the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA and the Rural Coalition for our first meeting to discuss the barriers to credit that farmers are facing in light of the economic downturn. We shared the findings of our Don’t Bank On It report, a national survey of farm credit counselors that reveals giant gaps in credit availability for our nation’s farmers. The point was to underscore that (despite what big banks may say) the financial situation for many farmers is dire and isn’t getting the attention it deserves. We also touched on broader issues related to rural investment and the role of government in spurring economic development in the countryside. I made sure to point out that the family farm is a unique business--one that requires special attention and is critical to our nation’s economy. As Willie always says, “Family farmers are the backbone of our nation. When family farmers thrive, Main Streets thrive.”

The next day, Farm Aid was among several food and farm organizations to meet with White House staff about the GIPSA rule. This proposed rule—issued by the USDA—is the most important piece of farm policy to emerge in decades, one that will protect farmers and ranchers who raise livestock from corporate abuse. Perhaps not surprisingly, corporate meatpackers and poultry processors have put their lobbying dollars to use, using all sorts of antics to delay the USDA process and even pressuring the U.S. House of Representatives to strip funding for implementation of the rule.

But those of working for fair markets haven’t given up! Perhaps the most satisfying moment of the trip was hearing a senior White House advisor acknowledge our weeklong phone campaign (which so many of you participated in!) to urge President Obama to support the GIPSA rule. His words?

“The White House heard you loud and clear.”

That’s great to hear. But it’s not enough—we need to make more noise! Please join us in demanding the U.S. Senate to protect the GIPSA rule. Take action with Farm Aid and tell your senator to support GIPSA on our website.

If these meetings showed me anything, it’s that the biggest threat to family farmers is time. Timely credit is always crucial to family farmers as they take out loans to buy seeds, fertilizer and equipment to plant their crops or maintain their herds. But time is also crucial as they struggle to grow our food in an increasingly concentrated, anticompetitive and corporate-dominated market. With corporations making it harder and harder for family farmers to make a living, we’re losing more and more of them every day. So help us put the pressure on and keep America’s family farmers growing!

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