Letter From Langdon: The Less Than 1%
[imgbelt img=occupy3.jpg]Farmers are the less-than 1%. And if you want to go ahead and Occupy Langdon, well, it’s okay with everyone here. Nobody’ll stop you.
Farmers can be rich or poor, but few real farmers ever come close to being considered part of the 1%. Just the same, farms are sometimes identified along with wealthy corporate “persons” as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Big corporations and their wealthy CEOs are economic gate keepers of access to markets, seeds, and fertilizer. They are expanding control of genetics in plants and animals, and even the land itself.
Just because you can steal a widows and orphans’ pension fund, market access, or plain old DNA doesn’t mean you should — unless carefully crafted statues say so. (Jail time is the one thing Corporate America doesn’t want.)
Clearly, in America, the secret to success lies with passage of the right laws. It’s that way for agriculture, too, as companies seek new ways to control expenses and protect profits through legislation, rule-making, and lax enforcement. In America we call that “effective representation.”
It must be heaven because when big bankers “accidentally lost” gazillions subsequently replaced by tax dollars, no one went to prison and corporate “persons” paid out billions in attaboy employee bonuses.
But, when the police cleared Occupy Washington from McPherson Square, a public park just a few blocks from the White House, everyone lost their meager worldly possessions and eight people were jailed. Too bad for them.
That’s the nice thing about being a rural protester rather than an urban one. Around here, disenfranchised down and outers can protest to their hearts’ content and no one cares.
[img:occupy3.jpg]Most of the time they won’t even steal your tent.
Following a lengthy tweet to which no one responded, I occupied Langdon on Saturday. The only company I had was one Burlington Northern Santa Fe grain train with a three-man crew and an unsuccessful flock of snow geese looking for food on the flood plain.
The geese agreed with me that the Missouri River dams are for flood control and greedy corporations are bad. The train didn’t stop.
If we have learned nothing else, at least now we know that to be successful it is important to A) think big when planning floods or bank heists; B) have friends in high places; and C) never camp on public land in the middle of cities where people will notice.
For family farm rights, laws are even more important. Land prices have risen dramatically along with the prices of things we grow. Farms are profitable again.
Some rural bankers are complaining that farmers are paying off loans ahead of time while other farmers are buying and borrowing even more. Farm implements are selling like hotcakes, new pickup trucks are jumping off the lots, and farmers who held onto their renewable energy investments through the market collapse a couple of years ago are collecting dividends again.
Strange as it seems that’s not always what big business in America likes to see. They want the big breakup, the collapse, the chance to harvest assets below cost for the ultimate rebound. That’s the way they profited from buying out bankrupt farmer-owned renewable fuel refineries a couple of years ago.
When America seems trapped in an up cycle it becomes someone’s job to bring it down again. That’s how fortunes are made — by buying weak companies, hyping, reselling, and waiting for the crash.
1% “persons” get richer while the other 99% try to hold their own.
The Problem With Dairies
For farmers to do really well, prices of what we sell need to go up faster than our costs. If that doesn’t happen, the government must replace gazillions in profit losses with subsidies. The subsidies are there not because farmers are wimps but because we can’t afford not to have enough food.
Remember, 100% of the world has to eat. If America gets hungry, parts of the world will starve because corporations will take food from those hungry mouths to sell here.
That’s the way it’s been for decades until lately when demand for corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton finally caught up with supplies, and prices have risen.
The big exceptions are dairies where “persons” have been building corporate cluster dairies, overproducing, and knocking down milk prices. It’s the boom and bust corporate model that robs from the poor while building market share for the rich.
So far dairy subsidies haven’t kept up with losses. For family farms including dairies, the best approach is limiting the amount of subsidies people or “persons” can collect and maintaining reasonable production while creating employment and investment through stable and profitable family farms.
If big corporate milk controls the whole system they can also control the price they charge while lobbying for the subsidy they want and gaining control of the market from udder to cash register. Then family farms will never be able to return.
[img:occupy1.jpg]It’s about being able to manipulate the system for profit because corporations don’t care who or where strong-arm profits come from.
When family farmers or Mother Nature don’t create over production, someone is always happy to help. In Missouri “persons” are willing to spend big in order to gain a little legislative support.
Big, Big and…Big
Big pig, big chicken, big turkey, big milk, big markets, it’s all about big. But with little farms doing well these days, big business needs to shake things up. They like the boom and bust that dislodges even more small producers from the land.
Sometimes that means they lobby and make political contributions against grain producers to gain lower feed costs. Sometimes it means they lobby against law enforcement or the environment to cut a few corners. And sometimes it means they lobby against fairness in order to change rules that are inconveniently in the farmer’s favor.
The same businesses that used to be seen as monopolies are now viewed as what it takes to keep America competitive. According to this new doctrine, agricultural industry must be exempt from liability, have access to cheap immigrant labor, low feed prices, captive markets, and non-negotiable contract production.
And sometimes they need access to cheaper supplies of food from foreign countries that can be sold to unwary Americans. That’s why big “persons” don’t like country of origin labeling (COOL), because labeling gives consumers information they may not like and the opportunity to choose.
Big Food always wants their livestock and their consumers in close confinement, and ignorant.
Being big is no secret to success if you’re not rich. Family farmers look a little bigger simply by occupying Rural America with a not-so-whopping 21% of the total population. But when we’re combined with our neighbors, farmers also look a lot poorer, as median rural incomes are lower overall.
Counting Rural Votes
According to the U.S. Census of 2010, some of us live in towns with populations of 2,500 or less, but most rural people (farmers) are classified as not in a place at all — in other words, the legal equivalent of nowhere.
That’s just the way corporate America wants it to be.
According to Stephen Bloom, a transplanted-to-Iowa professor writing for The Atlantic, rural America mostly just hunts and fishes in between looking for jobs we can’t find, jobs that really don’t exist. That’s not exactly true, because unemployment in Iowa is actually far less than the national average.
Professor Bloom said the Iowa Caucuses are meaningless in picking a presidential candidate but don’t hurt the winners chances of being elected. That’s because either way, the nominee named in Iowa has a fifty-fifty chance of being elected.
But is that still true when the winner isn’t really the winner? Romney beat Santorum, but only because rural votes weren’t counted and Romney was declared winner too soon. Do rural Iowa votes count at all? Maybe only if someone remembers to count them.
Besides politics, hunting, and fishing, Professor Bloom mentions the epidemic of rural meth-heads. But unlike crime riddled cities where hitchhiking is suicidal, out here most of the time even the druggies are civil. Stated as a positive that probably sounds really bad, but we have to grab for wins wherever we can.
A Good Time To Farm
Here’s something that sounds better. Farming’s not so bad these days.
Less than 1% doing the work of food production is a big change from when I was born and farmers were over 12% of the work force. But farm closures and consolidation have stabilized. Still, even with profits up and numbers down, the smallest farmers survive only because of off farm jobs. But we’re still here.
One of our greatest national treasures are farm kids who grow up, get a job, and stay in rural America to raise a few calves and some kids. They symbolize retained knowledge of food production, something we really need as corporate America tries to consume the US food industry–one bite at a time.
Nationally though, young and beginning farmers who are mostly part time producers represent no more than a meager one tenth of all U.S. farms. The way I see it, they are one tenth of the one percent worth keeping.
Richard Oswald is a writer, regular Yonder columnist and farmer in Northwest Missouri. He is president of the Missouri Farmers Union.