Iowa Public Television

 

Farmer protest in Washington

posted on March 24, 2000


WHILE REPUBLICANS ARE ATTEMPTING TO TAKE POLITICAL ADVANTAGE OF RISING GAS PRICES, MORE THAN A FEW DEMOCRATS SEE THE FARM ISSUE AS THEIR OPPORTUNITY TO RECAPTURE CONGRESS.

NEVER HAPPY WITH THE CURRENT SEVEN YEAR "FREEDOM TO FARM" LAW, THE DEMOCRATS ARE NOW FORGING A HOST OF COMPLAINTS, MANY OF THEM UNRELATED TO THE MUCH VILIFIED LAW, INTO A COHESIVE CAMPAIGN AGENDA. THE GOAL IS TO "REFORM" FREEDOM TO FARM LONG BEFORE IT RUNS ITS STATUTORY COURSE. THE RHETORIC SUGGESTS CHANGE WOULD COME IMMEDIATELY. THE POLITICAL REALITY IS THE COMPOSITION OF CONGRESS MUST FIRST BE ALTERED. AND THIS WEEK UNDER THE AUSPICES OF A CAPITOL HILL "FARM RALLY" NEXT NOVEMBER'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN WAS LAUNCHED.

THIS WEEK IN WASHINGTON, FARMERS NOT ONLY SANG THE BLUES ...THEY SHOUTED FROM THE PODIUM ... AND HELD A 39-CENT A PLATE LUNCHEON TO ILLUSTRATE THEIR SHARE OF WHAT WOULD RETAIL AS AN $8 MEAL.

WITH SOME 2,000 IN ATTENDANCE NEAR THE FOOT OF THE CAPITOL FOR TWO DAYS, THE "RALLY FOR RURAL AMERICA" PUSHED AN AGENDA WHICH INCLUDED A DEMAND TO EVEN THE PLAYING FIELD BETWEEN CORPORATE AND FAMILY FARMS. THEY CALLED FOR:

-A MORITORIUM ON AGRIBUSINESS MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS.

-A BAN TO PREVENT LIVESTOCK PACKERS FROM OWNING ANIMALS.

-AND TO STOP THE EXPANSION OF LARGE-SCALE FACTORY FARMS.

MINNESOTA SENATOR PAUL WELLSTONE, WHO ATTENDED THE RALLY, SAID THE PART OF THE SOLUTION MAY ALREADY EXIST ... BUT JUST NEEDS TO BE ENFORCED.

Wellstone (paraphrased): "I think we need to take antitrust action seriously. When you have a few large, like, we need to put free enterprise back into the food industry. We need competition. Farmers don't have a level playing field against the Cargills. They're up agains the IBPs, the ConAgras."

BUT EXISTING LAWS MAY NOT HELP WITH FARMERS OTHER DEMANDS. THE RALLEIRS ALSO WANT INCREASED CROP SUPPORTS, SHORT-TERM CONSERVATION PROGRAMS, AND A REVIVAL OF THE FARMER OWNED RESERVE THAT PAYS FARMERS TO HOLD GRAIN OFF THE MARKET DURING YEARS OF LOW PRICES. AGRICULTURE SECRETARY DAN GLICKMAN SAID SUCH CHANGES MAY NOT COME VERY FAST.

"Working together we can make substantial changes in that farm bill. But the devil is in the details. I spent 18 years in that building behind us and I know what its like. Urban, suburban.. only 1 1/2-2% of the people live on farms anymore.."

Tags: agriculture farmers news protests Washington D.C.