Monday Roundup: The NFU and Hmong Farmers

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The contract chicken-raising industry is attracting immigrant farmers. 

Monica Potts reports in The American Prospect that in the “early 2000s, chicken producers such as Tyson, which is based in northwest Arkansas, began courting the Hmong, and advertisements about chicken-farming opportunities appeared in Hmong-language newspapers.” Now roughly 500 Hmong live in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma working under the same contract growing arrangements once offered to native born farmers. 

Potts tells the inevitable end of the story — that the contracts make immigrant farmers, like their native neighbors, “21st-century sharecroppers for companies like Tyson.”

Potts writes about the pending GIPSA regulations, noting that the rules propose to give growers more power in their business relationship with the large integrators. “The Republican-led House of Representatives could decide to modify the farm bill to take away the USDA’s power to make these changes,” Potts reports. 

• Richard Oswald reports from the annual meeting of the National Farmers Union:

San Antonio Texas may never be the same. That’s because this year’s National Farmers Union Convention is being held there at the Marriott Riverwalk Convention Center. Anyone who’s ever attended an NFU convention will agree that whatever Farmer’s Union members lack in discipline is more than made up for with enthusiasm. 

We aren’t the average, run-of-the-mill agricultural producer group. 

For one thing, a NFU silent auction fundraiser will raise money for the NFU Foundation from items donated by state affiliates and their members. Among those items are framed pictures, regional wines, jewelry, tooled leather handbags, and a well-patched pair of Illinois farmer Larry Loeb’s bib overalls.

Like I said, we aren’t your typical farm club. On the other hand we think Larry’s overalls prove we’re a pretty good representation of who’s out there doing the work in farm country.

The convention began officially on Sunday night with a banquet honoring NFU Meritorious Service Award winner, Texas Farmers Union President Wes Sims. Wes has been TFU president since 1996.

Wes’s soft-spoken demeanor is no measure of the dedication he’s shown to Farmers Union and American agriculture. NFU President Roger Johnson covered that in his tribute to Wes when he said, “There’s just no one who better represents family farmers….”

Earlier in the evening, in his address to a farmer crowd that filled the Marriott banquet hall, Johnson pointed out that subsidies for oil production are about 30 times those offered for renewable fuels. At the same time, American consumers still spend less than 10% of their disposable income on food while America buys less imported oil thanks to biofuels. 

Roger called for Congress to pass a new farm bill without delay, and said that a financial safety net for agricultural producers should be at the top of their list.

Meetings the next two days will consist of panel discussions on the farm bill, biotechnology in the 21st century, and U.S. trade relationships. Speakers include Senator Byron Dorgan, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, and USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager.

Of course the biggest question on everyone’s mind won’t be answered until Tuesday; that’s when we’ll know for sure who got Larry’s overalls.

• Yonder readers might want to check out Carolina Public Press, which says it will provide “in-depth, investigative, independent reporting for Western North Carolina.” You can get to it here. 

The first group of stories is about resources and insurance coverage for families living with autism.

• Heather Courtney’s movie Where Soldiers Come From will premier this week at the South By Southwest film festival in Austin. Courtney is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She followed a group of kids as they graduated from high school and found their way into the military and then to Iraq.

A disproportionate number of our soldiers come from small towns. That’s the story Heather’s film tells. To see times for showing, go here

 

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