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To Revive Rural America, We Must Fix Our Broken Food System

A senior official at the Iowa Farm Bureau, the nation’s largest agricultural organization, recently told me that most rural communities will soon disappear. Even though the organization’s nominal mission is to help “farm families prosper and improve their quality of life,” the official seemed accepting of this fate, even a bit happy about it. Either way, he told me that nothing could be done.

The thing is, the senior official isn’t wrong—the outlook for rural communities is grim. There are fewer jobs than there were a generation ago and the ones that remain pay lower and lower wages. America’s agricultural system is predicated on an extractive model, where more and more of the profits flow to a few. If current trends continue, rural America will soon be owned by a handful of families and corporations who will run their empires remotely with driverless tractors and poorly paid staff.

This decline occurred as a result of deliberate policy decisions made by politicians from both parties who favor multinational corporations at the expense of rural communities. But contrary to what the senior official at the Iowa Farm Bureau said, rural America can be revived. It has a future, but only if we challenge who holds power in the current system and create an agricultural system that rewards meaningful work.

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Economic power is more concentrated today than at any other point in American history, and nowhere is this power more apparent than in agriculture. The American food supply chain—from the seeds we plant [1] to the peanut butter [2] in our neighborhood grocery stores—is concentrated in the hands of a few multinational corporations.

This concentrated power comes at the expense of farmers and workers. Because the supply, processing, distribution, and retail networks are controlled by only a handful of firms, farmers face higher costs for their inputs and lower prices for their goods. In the 1980s, 37 cents out of every dollar [3] went back to the farmer. Today, farmers take home less than 15 cents [4] on every dollar. This new economic reality forces farmers to survive on volume, creating a system where only the largest farms can make a living.

The nation’s meatpacking industry is now more concentrated than when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle more than a century ago. Four companies, two of which are foreign-owned, now slaughter 52 percent [5] of all meat consumed in the United States, more than twice [5] the market share that the four largest companies held in 2002.

As journalist Christopher Leonard documents in The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business [6], the current system closely resembles sharecropping. Large corporations like Tyson Foods will only slaughter a farmer’s chickens if he has an exclusive contract with the company. In many rural communities, a farmer raising animals for slaughter has the “choice” of selling to only one slaughterhouse. And because Tyson is often the only buyer in town, it calls the shots, dictating everything from the facilities a farmer builds on her farm, to the feed she uses, to the price the farmer receives for full-grown chickens. The farmer has very little power in this transaction, and this asymmetry is a key factor in why 71 percent of American chicken farmers [7] live below the poverty line.  

For slaughterhouse workers, industry concentration has contributed to wage stagnation over the course of the past few decades. Workers at a Hormel slaughterhouse in Austin, Minnesota, made $10.69 per hour in 1985 [8], equal to $25.04 in 2018 when adjusted for inflation. But 33 years later, the average slaughterhouse worker makes less than $3 more [9]. Meanwhile, Wan Long, the chairman and CEO of WH Group—the holding company of Smithfield Foods—made $291 million [10] in 2017, the equivalent annual wages of 10,457 slaughterhouse workers.

Because farmers and other rural workers make less money, they also spend less money within their communities, creating a ripple effect that negatively impacts other local businesses. As a result, rural communities are hollowing out. Young people are leaving in droves, and the folks left behind are struggling to make ends meet.

The recovery from the Great Recession was an urban phenomenon. If rural communities had matched urban employment growth trends, they would have added more than 850,000 [11] new jobs. But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rural areas still have not even recovered [12] the jobs they lost in the recession—and many never will.

A handful of trends reflect this loss of opportunity and the decline in living conditions. Medicaid now pays for more than half of the births [13] at rural hospitals. Suicide rates are higher in rural America [14] than in urban America—and the gap is growing. The overall violent crime rate [15] in Iowa rose by only 3 percent between 2006 and 2016, but grew by 50 percent in communities with fewer than 10,000 residents. The opioid epidemic thrives from the desperation created by these economic circumstances. Thus, it is little surprise that rural communities simmer with a resentment that contributed to the election of Donald Trump.

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Growing up, I worked in my mom’s bakery in Iowa, and was paid in cookie dough. I operated the register and cleaned the store on Sundays after church. Many of my mom’s customers knew how I was doing in school and I learned about the happenings in their lives. In a sense, they became a part of our extended family. Our family bakery closed a decade ago, but my mom remains close to many of her customers. These folks could have bought coffee anywhere, but they chose my mom’s bakery because of the care and pride she took in serving them.

My dad worked as a beer salesman, and supplied most of the gas stations in our town. The job involved tailoring the promotional displays at stores according to demographics and local events in an effort to generate a surge in demand. For me, this meant I grew up with a lot of leftover beer display items to play with, from blow-up beer chairs to Red Dog stuffed animals. To this day, I still notice well-crafted merchandising because I know the time and skill that goes into it.

I mention these experiences because they shape how I view the role of power between food industry workers and businesses. In both of their professions, my parents had freedom and autonomy. Most workers today, however, do not enjoy this same freedom. Decisions are made by 20-something consultants in distant cities who have never worked the front lines and cannot possibly understand the day-to-day realities of their businesses. Starbucks, for example, dictates exactly where each branch manager must place each item on their shelves. Chain gas stations and big box stores do the exact same with beer.

These faceless multinational corporations strip workers of their dignity and respect, a fact that is often lost in recent discussions about economic consolidation. This dynamic is not easily quantifiable, but it’s easy to recognize when you ask workers what they think of their employers. Look no further than a candy company in Creston, Iowa, that fired more than 250 workers [16] days before Christmas last year after being bought out. To the company, these workers were merely seen as a number on some faraway excel spreadsheet—not as parents who had to go home on Christmas without jobs.

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Every year brings a new bestselling book that documents how broken the American food system is. The current Democratic Party platform mentions [17] “agriculture” and “food” six times each; the Republican Party mentions [18] them only a few times more. But neither party recommends substantive changes to the current system. The recently passed Farm Bill, which received significant support [19] from both parties in December, largely maintains the status quo. The crop subsidy program, for example, will continue to give 80 percent of all farm subsidies to the top 20 percent of American farmers [20]. It is little wonder that monopolies and corporate farms have grown more powerful at the expense of workers and family farmers.

Beyond the Farm Bill, the inability of either party to challenge concentrated power in the American food system is best illustrated with the meat monopolies. The Obama administration tried to stand up to chicken monopolies [21] by proposing new regulations to prevent abusive behavior but cowered when the industry pushed back. And if the Democratic Party ignored the concentration of power of the meat monopolies, the Republican Party, particularly under Trump, has exploited and entrenched it.

The Trump administration recently increased the speed caps [22] for killing lines in slaughterhouses and is considering removing [23] them for hogs, making dangerous work even more dangerous. In November, the administration eliminated [24] the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration, an agency under the United States Department of Agriculture that oversaw enforcement of antitrust law in the meatpacking business. In doing so, it removed one of the few safeguards for workers and small businesses in an already unbalanced marketplace.

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America’s agricultural system should allow regular folks to make a decent living producing food. Deliberate policy decisions caused the decline in farmers’ share of the food dollar, and many of the same policy decisions explain why wages for slaughterhouse workers have stagnated during the past three decades. Reversing these decisions can help farmers, slaughterhouse workers, and families within the food industry, and would help revive rural communities.

There are a number of simple actions that can help reverse the downward trajectory. For example, a ban on contract farming and tournament-style pricing would help realign the power dynamics between chicken farmers and the large corporations that exploit them. For workers, capping the killing line speeds at slaughterhouses and requiring meat inspectors to be public employees would similarly realign these dynamics. These actions would level the playing field for farmers, workers, and small businesses, and restore dignity and respect to workers at all levels of the American food system.

But the best way to reshape America’s food system to benefit rural communities is to restore competition by replacing the current pro-monopoly antitrust regime. In The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age [25], Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu records the enforcement history of anti-monopoly laws in the United States. For much of the 20th century, the federal government administered an antitrust framework that sought to avoid concentrated economic power. This framework helped ensure competitive balance, and sparked broad economic growth that benefited workers across the economic spectrum.

But in the early 1980s, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice—influenced by the work of Robert Bork [26]—pared back antitrust enforcement. Bork argued that the government must only focus on the impact of consumer prices when assessing anti-competitive harm. This approach, known as the “consumer welfare standard,” has resulted in less antitrust enforcement. And with the assumption that larger firms can create efficiencies that lead to lower prices for consumers, firms have gotten bigger and industries have become more consolidated.

The problem with the consumer welfare standard is that its basic premise has been disproven. In Mergers, Merger Control, and Remedies: A Retrospective Analysis of U.S. Policy [27], economist John Kwoka analyzed the effects to prices after mergers. After reviewing almost 200 recent mergers, he found that post-merger prices increased by an average of 4.3 percent. Thus, the consumer welfare standard fails to meet its own modest goal of reducing consumer prices. Yet despite this evidence, this broken enforcement strategy continues to be supported by both major political parties.

Perhaps most importantly, the consumer welfare standard is a misguided enforcement strategy because it does not account for the chicken farmers who are squeezed by Tyson, or the slaughterhouse workers whose wages have stagnated even as profits within their industry have soared. It does not account for the ripple effects that harm small businesses or the communities that have been hollowed out as the industries that support them wither away. And it doesn’t offer relief to people like my parents, who took pride in their work and were trusted by the communities that they served.

It is time to turn the page on this failed theory and put the “anti” back into antitrust.

The decline of rural communities and the consolidation of the American food system was the result of deliberate policy choices. If we acknowledge the consequences of these choices, we can understand why the grim future projected by the official at the Iowa Farm Bureau is possible—but that our fate is not yet sealed. Rural America can thrive once again, but only if we’re willing to challenge who holds power in the current system.

Austin Frerick is director of special projects at the Open Markets Institute. He has published research in the National Tax Journal, Tax Notes, and at the U.S. Department of Treasury, and his research has been cited in The Washington Post and The New York Times. This article was supported by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors.

36 Comments (Open | Close)

36 Comments To "To Revive Rural America, We Must Fix Our Broken Food System"

#1 Comment By Kansan On February 26, 2019 @ 11:20 pm

Your first paragraph is spot on. Despite their protests to the contrary, the mission of the Farm Bureau is to support the policies that are emptying out middle America.

#2 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 26, 2019 @ 11:49 pm

Chinese communism and American capitalism speed towards convergence.

#3 Comment By Whine Merchant On February 27, 2019 @ 3:13 am

“Meanwhile, Wan Long, the chairman and CEO of WH Group—the holding company of Smithfield Foods—made $291 million in 2017, the equivalent annual wages of 10,457 slaughterhouse workers.”

Maybe he earned every cent of that income, but don’t ever question why Bernie Sanders has political traction with disparity and inequity like that around.

Thank you –

#4 Comment By Robert K. U. On February 27, 2019 @ 5:56 am

Yours sincerely grew up on a small farm in Denmark. I had a wonderful childhood, but moved to Copenhagen for university studies. My advice will not at all be helpful. According to capitalist theory, there is wage to the worker, who, of course works, profit to the capitalist, who owns the business, interest to the bank, that finances, and tax to the community, which secures law, peace, and the common good, so that economy can exist at all. According to the iron hard law of wages, by Smith and Ricardo, wages will provide workers with that which they need to reproduce until next generation, such as food, home, school, medical need, culture, pension savings, holidays and rest. Excess profits of businesses will benefit the capital market and so propagate to society as a whole, i.e. agricultural profits flow through the capital market to the cities. But it is not contrary to capitalism, if the community taxes businesses with unusual high profits. So the Scandinavian solution would be to tax the capital markets and use the revenues for general wellfare. Either way, whether the profit flows through the capital market or through the tax system, the money ends in the cities. Basically, farm working of today does not demand the same high skills as highly educated work in cities. This conclusion must be wrong, however, because making our food should be one of the most complicated jobs on Earth. Food has four billion mathematical years of natural history in it. Fungi, plants and animals are complicated. Why is it, then, that farm working has become automatized, when every geographical spot is by nature special and complicated? How can people get back to highly trained, highly skilled, and highly paid work on farms? I guess the author hints to that small farms are really more efficient than big farms, and that bad government subsidies are to blame, like the Soviet kolkhoz system. Policy makers have falsely chosen that farms must be big and people work in cities.

#5 Comment By wake On February 27, 2019 @ 7:50 am

This is a well written and hard to read article. It is not easy to reverse decades of land consolidation, yielding fewer farmers in the grain side of the farming economy. The animal side is just as bad as described.

These are in many ways Republican policies in action, on worker safety, union busing, osha, environmental contamination (try living anywhere near a hog factory. they steal millions in value from those around them, making places unlivable)

And yet rural america consistently votes for it

I don’t mean to goo straight political on a good essay about America, but there is no way out on the livestock side without regulation, and maybe no way out at all on the grain side.

#6 Comment By Alexander H On February 27, 2019 @ 8:39 am

Nothing will change until the culture does. People recoup at the idea of paying 20 percent more for their groceries. We prioritize savings over health and our fellows.
Stop bargain shopping. Buy local. That will help family farmers recover.
Additionally, small farms need to stop operating as they did years ago. No more growing corn and soy beans. They need to specialize.
The American consumer has become a crass glutton, always demanding quantity over quality. Family Farming, like American manufacturing, will not rebound until that ceases to be the case.

#7 Comment By Johann On February 27, 2019 @ 8:40 am

I have a better idea. Forget regulations to force competition. In fact, eliminate all the regulations that are not FDA food safety related. Fact is, the big companies love regulations. In fact, they actually write the regulations and give a lot of money to the pols campaign funds. Less government regs will give upstarts a chance to compete with the conglomerates. Advocating government intervention to create more competition invariably results in the opposite effect. Time to learn that lesson.

#8 Comment By Hans Heaney On February 27, 2019 @ 9:36 am

Truer words were never written. Making America great again will never happen without taking a look towards our small communities/economies. Restoring the vitality they provided is far more important than any great merger the market can provide and will prove economically more valuable as well. “Get big or get out” was the most destructive policy imaginable for our culture.

#9 Comment By joshua On February 27, 2019 @ 9:58 am

Thank you for this and it is exactly what I mentioned to JohnF. I’m a conservative. A christian and a millennial. For whatever reason I seem to be more aware of the goings on of this country than the vast majority of people to say nothing of millennials. I don’t really understand that as the information is readily available pretty much everywhere. Get in your car and drive 2 hours and then stop and talk to a farmer and you’ll get an ear full. Regardless, if the republicans and conservatives don’t start paying attention to root cause, “pardon the pun”, they are going to lose to socialism as they should.

#10 Comment By TomG On February 27, 2019 @ 10:08 am

I wish it did not surprise me to learn that the administration has up the speed of the killing lines in slaughterhouses. We do the same with people and nations so why would consideration of workers and animals be any different.

There is a mighty triad to tackle with agri policy: seed patents monopolies (as noted in Ms. Olmstead’s excellent article posted here in TAC today as well); the meat industry consolidation as outlined very well here; and the grains processing industry which cranks out the ubiquitous carbohydrates ruining our health.

We’d need a lot less of anything from the government and big business (including health care) if the consumer would make common cause and return to a simpler whole foods diet where small and local keeps the money at home and where commodity crops are replaced with pasture for ruminants and the arable land for vegetables. Just think–eliminate type 2 diabetes, bring dignity to workers and revive the local communities.

#11 Comment By Tomonthebeach On February 27, 2019 @ 10:31 am

Indeed, policy debate about different ways to produce healthy nutritious food has been back-page news for decades, and that has enabled lobbyists to convince politicians over gourmet lunches to enable the monopolization, not just mechanization, of farming.

Aside from Austin, there are few debating whether Rural America is even worth saving. However, it seems to me that there remains leverage in revisiting the economics of farming provided by the emerging Monsanto (now Bayer) scandal over indiscriminate use of Roundup and other toxic farm chemicals. It is highly likely that Monsanto’s monopoly over pesticides and herbicides amplifies public health threats. The same arguments can be made about seed monopolies. Maybe that is a place to amplify the debate over Ag policy and monopolies.

#12 Comment By polistra On February 27, 2019 @ 10:32 am

Consolidation didn’t happen everywhere, and the differences might help to figure out how to decrease consolidation in the areas where it happened.

In the Palouse of SE Wash and N Idaho, family ownership is still the norm. The same families have owned the same farms since the 1880s. The booms and busts that created the Dust Bowl never happened here.

In Kansas and Okla, the Mennonites have maintained family ownership, though not quite as firmly as the Germans in the Palouse.

What’s the main variable? I don’t know, but it’s worth exploring.

#13 Comment By SteveM On February 27, 2019 @ 11:58 am

Re: “To Revive Rural America, We Must Fix Our Broken Food System”

Well no, to revive rural America, we must fix our broken immigration system.

I was listening to NPR a couple of years ago and they did a story on Wisconsin dairy farmers. “Ah, salt of the earth Middle America!” I thought as I tuned in.

Well it turned out that the farmers interviewed all used illegal Mexican immigrants as farm hands. Paid them 8 bucks an hour, no benefits, no health insurance, no workman’s comp. If a farm hand split his head open from a farm accident that was his problem.

Every farmer stated that they couldn’t stay in business without the cheap Mexican labor because they would be undersold. But that ignores the obvious. If there were consistent, massive workplace enforcement of immigration laws, no farmer would have a competitive advantage. And milk production is not something that is going to be outsourced to China. Americans would have to pay 50 cents more for a gallon of milk, but so be it.

But nope, everybody in agriculture has become desensitized to the use of illegal labor.

BTW, if there were effective immigration enforcement with the employers fined huge, the program would pay for itself and the immigration problem would go away.

Fat chance of that happening however…

#14 Comment By Louism On February 27, 2019 @ 1:52 pm

I wholly agree that big agriculture needs to be broken up. Its entirely too dependent on the government for subsidies and freezes out the small, medium and even large scale family run farms.

However, there is an equal if not bigger crisis in agriculture than big agriculture and that is suburban sprawl consuming what was once pristine farmland, wetland or forest.

#15 Comment By Brian On February 27, 2019 @ 2:14 pm

Read “Folks, this ain’t normal” by Joel Salatin.

#16 Comment By Mark Thomason On February 27, 2019 @ 2:29 pm

“This decline occurred as a result of deliberate policy decisions made by politicians from both parties who favor multinational corporations”

The profits are creamed off by well connected donor elites buying laws from both political parties. What remains is not enough to sustain quality of life in farming. Instead, it uses the desperate, like immigrants and those who have not yet been driven away.

It is not like this in Canada. Just across our border, farms are a healthy social and economic lifestyle. The big corporations don’t cream off the income overpricing inputs and underpricing outputs via monopoly power. Instead, government sponsored cooperatives do those jobs.

The US had that system, and our laws destroyed it. The Prairie Populists of the Grange Hall movements in our MidWest did exactly this. Now they’ve been driven out, ruined, and by design.

#17 Comment By LouB On February 27, 2019 @ 4:43 pm

When I was a kid in Whiteside county IL the local economy revolved around everything AG as well as the steel mill and manufacturing plants. Either you served one or the other or you worked for a business or service catering to the above and other locals. It was a well rounded economy. Wen you turned about 13 your summers would be working for local businesses or if you liked to tear up your hands you worked detasseling corn. A great place to live as a kid. When I pass through the towns now I can’t believe the devastation late capitalism has wrought. If Bernie and his crew convince the same folks who voted for Donald that collectivism is the way I wouldn’t be one bit surprised. Bigger wasn’t better.

#18 Comment By Jon On February 27, 2019 @ 6:01 pm

The Central problem is that markets regard all of these problems as externalities that cannot be priced into the market, because the grower/manufacturer does not pay the cost of the problems created by production, the entires society does, or, like local pollution, the results may fall on an unlucky winner of the loser’s lottery.

Entities like American conservative resist government attempts to change market at the regulation behavior. This means that they are philosophically against anyone trying rearrange costs, because it distorts the market.

Capitalism and free market economics have no solution for this problem. Big government does, but it will always be opposed by the very people who seem to be making the complaint here.

What this means is that our present notions fo economics are inadequate to the problems we are presented with.

Start looking elsehwere, or accept mechanized, massive farming methods controlled by a minimum of the 1% required to meet our needs and export food.

#19 Comment By Russell Seitz On February 27, 2019 @ 11:25 pm

Chill, Johann- Die Wurstpolitik ist keine exakte Wissenschaft.

#20 Comment By JeffK On February 28, 2019 @ 7:31 am

@SteveM says:
February 27, 2019 at 11:58 am

“Americans would have to pay 50 cents more for a gallon of milk, but so be it….

BTW, if there were effective immigration enforcement with the employers fined huge, the program would pay for itself and the immigration problem would go away.

Fat chance of that happening however…”

Agree 100%. To solve many of our social programs we need to put Americans to work making things. Things we use/consume daily. This means we will probably pay more for lots of those things, which means we will have fewer sparkling farkles in our closets, drawers, and sitting on shelves. I guess short term storage facilities will take a hit. So be it.

Also, fixing e-Verify, and requiring employers to use it, will stop the hiring of undocumented workers immediately. That, however, will require enforcing laws that businesses, and business owners, don’t like. So be it. Marching a few CEOs and roofing company owners off to jail will send a powerful message that society truly needs. Nobody is above the law.

#21 Comment By Scott Overmyer On February 28, 2019 @ 9:53 am

Conservative values at work. As long as rural America remains politically conservative, these trends will continue, and rural America will suffer the consequences. The more conservative rural America becomes, the less likely that government will have the power to intervene.

#22 Comment By mrscracker On February 28, 2019 @ 11:21 am

Louism says:

“However, there is an equal if not bigger crisis in agriculture than big agriculture and that is suburban sprawl consuming what was once pristine farmland, wetland or forest.”

****************

My thoughts, too. And prime farmland, unlike forest or wetlands, is generally flat, accessible & easily developed. Wetlands have some conservation protections. Farm land, not so much.

#23 Comment By Lert345 On February 28, 2019 @ 4:49 pm

The larger problem with those subsidies is that the money is subsidizing the not-so-good food, and making it cheaper than fruits and vegetables. Corn and wheat products are contributing to obesity in the poorer enclaves because it’s what buyers can best afford.

I’ll wager the greater percentage of farm workers are illegal labor, who don’t mind the jobs it beats what they can get in their home countries. They won’t complain. If these workers ever gained legal status, they would cost more, and food prices will go up. The American consumer would rather have cheap food. So things stay the way they are.

Good point about the chicken monopolies. Factory farming and slaughterhouse conditions are really barbaric for the animals. Because they are raised in such cramped squalid conditions, they must be dosed with antibiotics or they would sicken and die. Industrial practices are a major cause of anti-biotic resistance. To effect change, pressure is going to have to come from the consumer. The government won’t stand up to the corporations.

#24 Comment By kalendjay On February 28, 2019 @ 7:35 pm

The mention of slaughterhouses in this article reminds us of The Slaughterhouse Cases, a now infamous SCOTUS decision dominated by the oft detested Stephen J.Field (a dissenter whose views on commerce were eventually adopted). When New Orleans created a centralized slaughterhouse to serve as a regulated consortium of meat packers, Field considered this a “war of the poor against the rich”, citing this regulated business as a violation of due process.

It is widely viewed that this set back efforts of freedmen to economically better themselves in the industry, by creating hurdles too high for them to form their own slaughterhouses, or otherwise enter the market in a truly competitive fashion against established packers.

Again, in the famous Lochner Decision, the Supreme Court banned intrastate regulation of wages and hours via Due Process, even though the bakery and the regulations in question had nothing to do with Interstate Commerce.

Both cases serve to remind us that big business interests have masqueraded as federal rights long before Judge Bork, and we have to wonder what ‘conservative jurisprudence’ really is, to so aggressively intervene in such local interests as food production.

#25 Comment By Josep On March 1, 2019 @ 1:38 am

Let’s not forget the possible risks involving GMO products and Monsanto’s thuggish tactics to force them into our throats, to say nothing of how many candy products still use fake dyes and preservatives that allegedly trigger hyperactivity and attention problems, when Europe has abandoned them in the second half of the 2000s onwards.

@Lert345

The larger problem with those subsidies is that the money is subsidizing the not-so-good food, and making it cheaper than fruits and vegetables. Corn and wheat products are contributing to obesity in the poorer enclaves because it’s what buyers can best afford.

What also doesn’t help is the large food portions here in America; the average soda cup size in the US is much larger than in Japan. Meanwhile, another portion of the country is going hungry.
Also, corn subsidies have also led to replacing real cane sugar with high fructose corn syrup. Attempts to put taxes on soda have been derided as “nanny-statism” at least once.
How bad was the obesity pre-HFCS?

#26 Comment By GaryH On March 1, 2019 @ 7:12 am

“America’s agricultural system has become extractive, and more and more of the profits are flowing to a few.”

That sentence is true of all Globalist economics. Globalism is increasing the number of billionaires while reducing the middle class, and making it much less steady, in every nation that was part of the West.

That, I assert, is a feature, not a bug, to those who run Globalism.

#27 Comment By mrscraker On March 1, 2019 @ 4:30 pm

Lert345 says:

“Good point about the chicken monopolies. Factory farming and slaughterhouse conditions are really barbaric for the animals. Because they are raised in such cramped squalid conditions, they must be dosed with antibiotics or they would sicken and die”

*******************

We used to have neighbors up the road who had a couple chicken houses & contracted with Tyson or Pilgrim’s Pride or one of those large outfits.
Most folks have never been inside a chicken house & unauthorized people can’t enter without permission anyway.Producers have to control the introduction of pathogens carried in by shoes, etc. Not because their chickens are in such a weakened state but because of the tremendous loss that would entail.
Newcastle disease has reappeared again following the recent popularity of backyard chickens-many of which aren’t vaccinated against it.
I’ve raised poultry since I was a child & the number & variety of diseases, parasites & varmints which attack chickens is enormous. That is especially true for “free range” birds.

Chickens in large commercial chicken houses have freedom of movement, adequate air circulation, plenty of litter, feed & water. If they didn’t, they’d die or sicken & no one would make a profit. Birds have very sensitive lungs & dust & pollution affects them quickly. Farmers are aware of that & have to be diligent to reduce losses.
I prefer home raised chicken. I think it tastes better. But I really don’t like to see hardworking farmers portrayed as indifferent to their livestock’s health.
Chicken house operators barely scrape by financially. Why would they want to keep their birds in unhealthy housing & lose even more profit?

#28 Comment By Magnolia On March 1, 2019 @ 10:44 pm

Eliminate all subsidies. I know many conservative Republican farmers who think the government spends too much money but lunge after all taxpayer funded subsidies that float their way. Sen. Joni Ernst is a prime example.

#29 Comment By Rob G On March 2, 2019 @ 10:49 am

“The more conservative rural America becomes, the less likely that government will have the power to intervene.”

Why would government intervene at any substantive level when the USDA and Big Ag are joined at the hip?

The problem is not with conservatism per se, but with the failure of many conservatives to see that corporate “bigness” inevitably leads to cronyism. Why would rural conservatives be any more cognizant of this than their urban and suburban counterparts?

By the way, if you read, say, Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk, you soon realize that there was a time when certain conservatives, albeit a minority, understood this. But they were marginalized by the ascent of neo-conservatism in the 80’s.

#30 Comment By Philip Lisagor On March 3, 2019 @ 7:26 pm

Today’s farm situation reflects the policy decisions enacted by Dept. of Agriculture Secretary Oroville Freeman during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhauer. Read Wendell Berry’s details of these changes under Ike: [28]

#31 Comment By CalClem57 On March 4, 2019 @ 10:43 pm

As someone who lived in Missouri, now in rural California, and the descendant of (now-retired) dairy farmers from Wisconsin and Minnesota, just about all my relatives back there (even the older ones) are for Sanders this time. Even the ones that liked Paul in 08 and 12. I’ve never heard them like they were the last time I talked to them. Think Wisconsin goes back democrat if Sanders gets nomination and wouldn’t be over surprised if he won the whole thing. Good article

#32 Comment By PrairieDog On March 5, 2019 @ 12:07 pm

Well, well. A long article about what’s wrong with American agriculture which not once mentions US tax policies and their bias against self-employment. Our tax codes treat Schedule F income(and Schedule C income) the same as W-2 income. In practice, X amount of Schedule F income will never have the same amount buying power as X amount of W-2 income since money not deductible as an expense nor depreciable as an investment will inevitable have to be plowed back into the farming operation, whereas the W-2 taxpayer can spend his after tax income however he wants. Yet farm income is taxed at the same rate as W-2 income.
Frankly, I’m always amazed, and more than a little disgusted by people who think farmers should live and work in 19th century (if not 18th century)conditions secure in the knowledge that they themselves will never have to live and work under those conditions. Sure, sure, blame those evil corporations for the system that a citified citizenry has imosed on the farmer.

#33 Comment By Peter Hinde On March 12, 2019 @ 12:25 pm

Take heart by publicizing the burgeoning alternatives for small farmers in Brazil taking back land muscled from origional owners, likewise in India the movement Chipiko to reforest a land ripped off by big lumber, and in Etiopia, Africa’s Tigray province to recover degraded land with forest and and terraces. cf David Molineau in Agenda Latinoamericana 2019 p. 22-23
It is a delight to see so many intelligent replies and wonder why we can’t change this present counter productive, really disastrous, megafood industry.

#34 Comment By Scott Fortune On March 20, 2019 @ 7:07 pm

Agree with last comment – I learned a lot reading the article and comments. From an Australian perspective, we have acute problems of land degradation, climatic disasters, traditional destructive farming methods, and a small but growing number of “regeneration” farmers who experiment and do things differently. Our cities have folks who want organic or free-range or chemical free foodstuffs. So ingredients of change but too slow to make enough difference to health, soil and water quality and farm viability. And many farmers still vote for the worst offending parties and the old regimes even when they see the greater resilience of their ‘alternative’ neighbours. Tax and subsidy regimes, including drought assistance, that don’t drive change, monopoly supermarket chains, export markets unconcerned about welfare or health standards, keep this going. I hope carbon taxation will force some change but lab meat and other foodstuffs may also be part of the future.

#35 Comment By Brad Wilson On March 31, 2019 @ 10:10 pm

He’s referring to the 1980s farm crisis as if it was the “boom years,” (but those were in the 1940s, when we had a Democratic Farm Bill). Farmers share of the Food Dollar, if you ALSO subtract the input share, (Monsanto, John Deere,) was only 7.7% in 1997, with a trendline to zero farm share by 2020. Without the input share, the 1980s farm share fell from 12.7% to 8.6%. In the 40s it ranged from 29% to 35%, just for farmers. And then we had more years of record low farm prices after 1997, with recent years not far behind. Antitrust can’t fix this because it’s inherent in chronic free market failure, on both supply and demand sides for agriculture. Only a true Democratic Farm Bill can fix it, as in the New Deal and Harkin Gephardt and “Food from Family Farms Act.”

#36 Comment By David Harrell On April 27, 2019 @ 11:36 am

Polistra said:

In the Palouse of SE Wash and N Idaho… The same families have owned the same farms since the 1880s. The booms and busts that created the Dust Bowl never happened here.

In Kansas and Okla, the Mennonites have maintained family ownership, though not quite as firmly as the Germans in the Palouse.

What’s the main variable? I don’t know, but it’s worth exploring.

They have something to stay for: family, church, community.