Is the Harvest Moon Setting on Family Farming?

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A new kind of merchant, far more powerful, pillages and plunders in today’s world. As harvest progresses across farm and ranch country, the markets have never been more unfair or abusive. What the farmer and rancher receives for their toil has never been so little compared to what the consumer pays.

This fall many more farmers and ranchers, the stewards of our precious lands, will go out of business due to the lack of fair markets for what they produce.

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Today I’m thinking about hungry people, farmers, ranchers, exploited contract growers and abused food workers

Today I’m thinking about hungry people, farmers, ranchers, exploited contract growers, and abused food workers. I’m also reflecting on the corporate takeover of our government and nearly all major industries, including, perhaps most importantly, our food supply. Agricultural commodity prices are at disastrously low levels, a farm crisis worse than the 1980s is very likely ahead, and all the while we grow more and more dependent on foreign countries and foreign corporations for food.

How do we break this abusive monopoly power before all our family farmers and independent businesses are gone? How do we build a political force powerful enough to replace corporate puppets like Kansas Senator and Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts?

Today, serious food shortages and hunger are sparking violent protests in many places around the world, including Venezuela and Syria.

A few items follow relative to the importance of food and a nation’s ability to feed itself. It’s a national security issue!

You will learn about the fight against corporate power in Oklahoma (State Question 777) that has already inspired new awareness of the need for local self-reliance.

And you’ll meet my friend Barry Lynn, a scholar and journalist, who reminds us of the dangers of monopoly power and how to protect what is left of our food system while also rebuilding anew.

A sad memory

Three years ago, the Organization for Competitive Markets held a funeral service for competitive markets in agriculture. Today, with calf prices half of what they were just one year ago, our pronouncement has proven true. Meanwhile, retail food prices remain the same. For a look back at what we were saying in 2013 read this:

Obituary: The Market Is Dead 1921-2013
Posted on July 8, 2013 by Mike Callicrate


Funeral services will be held August 9th, 2013, in Kansas City, MO.

We’re not alone

The following news clip reveals a preventable human tragedy happening in Venezuela, where for too long the country has been "ordering takeout" and paying for imported food with oil money. Food giant Cargill was a major force in the industrialization of agriculture and loss of family farms, making the country vulnerable to starvation. Chavez kicked Cargill out but was unable to rebuild the lost family farm infrastructure.

The U.S. is now subject to a handful of multinational corporations controlling agriculture and food. Rather than selling oil, we run up the national debt to pay for imported food commoditized and redistributed by foreign-owned, state-sponsored food companies like JBS and Smithfield.

A growing, catastrophic food crisis sows unrest in Venezuela

Syria, too, has lost its farms and farmers: Researchers Link Syrian Conflict to a Drought Made Worse by Climate Change

The U.S. is now a net food importer on a value basis and continues to lose some of our best food producing land, water and infrastructure to foreign interests.

What can we do?

Here’s where the battle against concentrated power could turn in our favor: Oklahoma’s so-called "Right to Farm" Constitutional Amendment SQ777, places the interests of foreign corporations like JBS and Smithfield, and other multinationals like Cargill and Tyson, over Oklahoma citizens. After the corporations won a similar measure in Missouri, it’s now imperative that Oklahoma reverse course. I hope all Oklahomans will join the campaign against abusive corporate power and vote NO on SQ777.

Support leaders who offer solutions

Meet The Man Who Is Changing Washington’s Ideas About Corporate Power

Former business journalist Barry Lynn is reviving a forgotten tradition.

When we lose our markets, we lose our freedom … and, we lose our democracy!

Mike Callicrate

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Mega Mergers Focus for Organization for Competitive Markets

The Organization for Competitive Markets recently wrapped up their annual convention. One of their primary concerns is the increasing consolidation in U.S. agriculture. OCM President Mike Callicrate says they’re closely watching proposed mega-mergers between ChemChina and Syngenta, Dow and DuPont and Bayer and Monsanto.

He says while its good Senator Chuck Grassley is calling for a hearing next month to examine those mergers, he doubts if it will result in any action.

Callicrate says wealthy corporations are driving these mergers and trying to stop them is becoming almost impossible.

Callicrate says Dianna Moss of the American Anti-Trust Institute spoke at their convention outlining the various concerns with the mega agricultural mergers.

To listen, click here.

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Area dairy farms shut down as milk prices slide

By Joe Mahoney CNHI State Reporter

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FileA cow is seen at Hemlock Valley Farm in Milford in this June 2014 photo

ALBANY — Tim Tucek, a Chenango County dairy farmer, said it was a decision he couldn’t avoid given his limited options — sell the farm or go broke.

Robin Fitch, whose family milks about 170 cows in West Winfield, said she is “99.9 percent” certain that she’ll shut down her operation, too.

Tucek and Fitch are among scores of New York dairy farmers hit hard by a steep, sustained decline in milk prices. The reduction amounts to a cut of about 40 percent of revenues since prices peaked in 2014.

“It’s a sad statement about agriculture in this country when many of the farmers who supply us with our food can financially qualify now for food stamps,” said Dave Rama, a Delaware County cattle dealer.

Cheap milk for consumers comes with a high cost for farmers, said Rama. The effects have spread to small businesses that supply local dairies, as well.

“It’s having a major ripple effect,” he said. “All of a sudden, the vendors have become lenders.”

Dairy farmers have ridden a wave of prices and production, agriculture experts say.

Two years ago, U.S. dairies ramped up production to take advantage of prices rising with international demand, particularly from China.

But exports — to China and Europe — have sharply fallen. The resulting glut and falling prices are bleeding the industry.

“Our farmers are trying to produce as much milk as they can, even though prices are low, to improve their cash flow,” said David Balbian, a dairy specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service.

“The extra milk is not helping the situation, but individual farmers have to do what’s best for them,” he said.

New York farmers are braced for the situation to worsen, when New York City’s last remaining milk processing plant, Elmhurst Dairy, closes for good this fall. Located in Queens, the 97-year-old plant will lay off 273 workers.

It will also force many upstate farmers to make other arrangements.

Elmhurst is where Tucek sends milk from about 100 cows on his Bainbridge farm. He hopes to sell his cows, he said, before the processor closes.

“Dairy farming is no longer profitable,” said Tucek, 48, who has been milking cows since he was 18. “Prices go up at times, but then they go down for too long.

“We’ve lost 200,000 dairy farms in this country, and no one wants to do anything about it,” he said. “If you can’t eke out a living from it, then you have to do something else.”

A married father of one, Tucek said he does not yet know what he’ll do for work.

Robin Fitch said she agonizes over selling her farm, since her 25-year-old son is committed to making dairy management a career.

Fitch bottle-fed her cows when they were newborn calves. Every one has been given a name, usually inspired by a television character.

Fitch said she keeps tabs on how long she’s had each cow based on the shows that produced their monikers.

“The little milk companies are being pushed out of business,” she said. “The small farms are seen as a thorn in the side of the corporate farms.”

Concerns about the plight of dairy farmers spurred 45 members of Congress to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week for help.

Separately, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., called on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reimburse the premiums and fees that farmers paid through a federal insurance program created in 2014.

The department has collected $73 million in premiums but only paid $700,000 to farmers, according to Gillibrand.

Vilsack announced this week that his department will pay out $11.2 million to farmers enrolled in the program, due to the narrowing margin between milk prices and feed costs.

But Tucek said the problem Washington needs to address is a pricing system that causes such wild gyrations in what farmers get for their milk.

With national and international markets out of their control, farmers have limited choices, said Mariane Kiraly, an educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Selling cows may not be the best option, she said, because the low price of milk has decreased the demand — and prices — for cattle, too.

Some farmers resort to selling timber and stone to stay ahead of their bills, said Kiraly, who helps farm families with financial planning.

Fitch said she doesn’t see the plight of farmers improving unless the federal government finds a “balance” to keep dairy producers from losing money by milking cows.

“Right now there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “The government encourages young people to get into farming. But what they are doing is setting them up for a disaster.”

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com

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Ban On Meat Packer Ownership: Too Little, Too Late

By Mike Callicrate

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a longtime advocate for fair markets, is once again reintroducing a bill that would make it unlawful for meat packers to own livestock more than seven days prior to slaughter. Similar legislation has been introduced before, but the powerful packer lobby has always succeeded in killing it.

Cowboy Aside from whether the bill actually has a chance this time, there’s another question to consider. If Congress bans meat packers from owing livestock, who will be left to buy the ranchers’ calves and the stockers’ and backgrounders’ feeder cattle?

When packer ownership first became an issue back in the spring of 1994 — a crisis during which the market fell $17 per hundredweight ($220 per head) in just six weeks — few people understood the negative impacts of packer-owned livestock, also known as captive supplies. Well, now we know. The lack of price discovery is on everybody’s radar screen, underscored by one of the most egregious market failures of all time: the 2015 cattle market meltdown, which saw billions of dollars of equity transferred from the independent cattle-feeding sector to the powerful meat packers and food retailers. With losses exceeding $600 a head, already crippled cattle feeders were essentially wiped out in 2015 – the largest capital drain ever experienced by the cattle industry.

Even by historic standards, the 2015 free-fall was a watershed. And history has been brutal. The year 1994 was particularly punishing. When market leader IBP (now Tyson) stepped out of the market for six weeks, the other big packers no longer had a “boss cow” to follow for price leadership. More than 1,500 enraged cattlemen gathered in Omaha to protest the destructive price decline. Prices recovered $12 per hundredweight in the following weeks, but what was obvious to many sellers of finished cattle was confirmed later in 1996 by a former IBP vice president: the biggest meat packers had indeed agreed to basically cooperate rather than compete.

So now we come to the late summer of 2015 and the wrenching 30% drop in cattle prices. Even when the cattle market was at record levels in 2014, producers were still short of their 1975 share of the consumer beef dollar by about $200 per head, though it was a much-needed improvement. Unfortunately, it proved to be short lived. While consumers continued to pay essentially the same amount for beef, cattle producers got shafted. Tragically, there weren’t enough independent-thinking cattlemen left to even organize a protest. At least the feisty R-CALF organization was willing to step up and call for a Congressional hearing.

Tyson While the plundering of cattle producers ensued, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was asleep at the wheel by failing to enforce the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act, intended to prevent
another meatpacker monopoly. Instead, he was celebrating the lifting of import restrictions on South American beef, giving greedy meat packers and retailers all the leverage they needed to drive down U.S. cattle prices to far lower South American values while inflating their own profits.

Banning packer ownership of livestock now isn’t the solution it would have been had it been enacted when it was sorely needed. Years of de-regulation and antitrust neglect have allowed the biggest, most aggressive companies to gain monopoly control of our food supply. Competition is dead, and, without competitors, a true market can’t exist.

Our founding father Ben Franklin described family farm agriculture as “. . . the only honest way [to acquire wealth], wherein man received a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God in his favor, as a reward for his innocent life and his virtuous industry.” Today’s environment is more akin to Jurassic World. farmerfounders Rather than creating wealth from the land, the winner-take-all super-predator corporations are running a giant mining operation. No new processors, feeders or producers can succeed, even though new players are what we critically need to revive competition, restore market access and keep cattle prices honest.

If food security is important to Americans, we need far more than a ban on meat packer ownership of livestock. We must break the monopoly power of big retail, big meat packing and big food in general and create a pathway for family farmers and ranchers to re-establish their traditional connection with consumers. An all-out effort must be made to rebuild a healthier family farm food system all the way from soil to table, giving new life to the most important sector in our economy — American agriculture.

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