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Family farms, another point of view

By Paul Stout

I am taking this opportunity to speak to you not as your Rocky Mountain Farmers Union vice president, but as a fellow member and farmer, to put in my two cents worth regarding the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and its website showing farm program payment recipients from 1995 to 2000. I spent several hours going over the data and saw a lot of errors and discrepancies.

Payment totals for a single entity when ranked by state, county and community often are not the same. It has also been stated that CRP payments were not used in the calculations. This is not true in all cases. Some reports also include deficiency payments from the old farm program. Also, explanations were unclear as to why there were multimillion-dollar awards in excess of payment limitations set in the original bill. Some of the money paid out went to government agencies, big processors and even cooperatives. What does all of this mean for family farmers? What is the true motive behind this action?

I see one scenario as pitting large and small family farms against each other through the old class-envy argument.

The other is to attempt to point out abuses in favor of corporate ag that need attention and correction. EWG’s objective is to make sure future funds are strictly spent on small- and medium-sized farms and taken away from larger family farms in the effort to curtail multimillion-dollar windfalls to big corporate ag.

The USDA defines farms in the following categories:
· Small, $50,000 or less gross sales
· Medium, $50,000 to $150,000
· Large, $150,000 and over

My own operation falls into the large definition as do many operations in eastern New Mexico. The primary concern is how targeting of benefits will effect these entities. There are several operations in eastern Colorado this would also impact.

Whether you farm 3,500, 5,000, 10,000 or 40,000 acres, the proceeds after expenses divided amongst brothers, sons and even grandchildren is not very much per individual. There is also greater debt and expense involved. Many of the larger operations are also significant producers for local cooperatives. A cut in payments of 10, 20 or even 50 percent would have a very significant impact.

Many advocates of targeting benefits and those concerned about overproduction and wanting set asides restored reside in areas with high yielding crops and abundant rainfall and snow. In the southwest region of New Mexico, Texas and southeastern Colorado along with the Oklahoma Panhandle, drought and low yields are more common. While these ideas might work in some regions of the nation, they will not work here. We need payment mechanisms that keep producers in our area viable and strong.

Not all large farms are greedy or attempt to force other operators out – they farm a lot of land out of necessity. It is a matter of economic survival.

As for the EWG and other mainstream environmentalist groups, the underlying theme is the eventual elimination of the larger family farms and maybe even the medium sized ones. They seek total and complete governmental control of the land and water resources through any means necessary, under the guise of saving the ozone layer, endangered species, or exposing payment recipients. Farm policy should always serve the interests of all types of family farms.

I say to you that all family farmers should stand against this nonsense and make our true fight about getting a good farm bill and the lack of true free markets. While we must get this legislation passed soon, it is just as important to lay the ground work for the next farm bill after that. We need to address inequities in the current and new farm bill on an individual case basis rather than blanket policy that may hurt innocent family farmers and have little effect on big corporate agriculture at all.

One solution might be to look at income and expense as components of program payments to determine real need for federal dollars. We need a serious revisit of NAFTA and GATT and correct the damage being done to American farmers and ranchers. Farm programs need the flexibility to be fiscally responsible and help production agriculture and not be tailored just to fit a trade agreement. We also need to stay on top of the anti-trust and concentration bandwagon and bring about the end of price-distorting, anti-competitive monopolies. No profit for farmers and ranchers versus double-digit profit percentages for processors just doesn’t work. While we can ask for federal assistance, it still is a far cry from getting the market place to pay a price that covers expenses and delivers a profit consummate with other industries.

Let us work together to ensure that all sizes of family farms and ranches are secure and profitable for the future.

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