Principles for a Fairer Farm Bill

Catholic Rural Life is collaborating with a broad-based coalition of 210 farm, rural, worker and consumer advocacy organizations to address the lack of competition in our nation’s agriculture and food system.

As a first step, the coalition sent a letter to the U.S. Congress that detailed Principles for a Fairer Farm Bill. The letter, delivered October 4, was directed to leaders of the Senate and House agriculture committees, which are holding hearings and listening sessions for a new Farm Bill. The current bill expires September of next year.

The Farm Bill is a multi-year law that sets federal policies and funding levels for various nutrition, agricultural, and rural development programs. This important legislation provides a “safety net” to farmers and families who require economic assistance or natural disaster relief. Rural and urban families across the nation benefit from these protections and policies.

The coalition letter made key points about the impacts of consolidation – fewer and larger corporations – in the agribusiness, food processing and supermarket industries: 1. lower prices for farmers; 2. lower wages for farmworkers and other food chain workers; 3. erosion of rural economies; and 4. higher prices while limiting choices for consumers.

The letter calls on Congress to confront the ongoing consolidation of agribusiness and food processing industries, along with addressing unfair production contracts for farmers and the lack of market transparency for price discovery.

The coalition letter advocates the following:

“Corporate consolidation is the worst it has ever been in our nation’s history,” said Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union. In a press statement released along with the letter to Congress, Johnson went on to say:

A handful of multinational companies control our inputs sector, and just four meatpackers dominate the cattle industry. Yet, as these industries and others consolidate market power into the hands of a few, the federal government continues to rubber stamp more and more mergers. If we want a country where family farmers, ranchers, and rural residents can enjoy the same economic liberty and prosperity as the rest of the country, we must address this enormous domestic policy threat to the livelihoods of these people.

The letter to Congress describes how meatpackers control livestock markets with practices including packer-owned livestock, contracts and marketing agreements that are susceptible to manipulation and vertical integration. These tools allow large meat companies to exert unfair market power over farmers and ranchers, lowering the prices they receive, while consumer prices continue to rise.

CRL continues to advocate for family farms.  “Family farm agriculture is an economic and cultural cornerstone in America,” states Greg Fogel, Policy Director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Increasingly, however, our small and medium-scale farms are disappearing while corporate agribusinesses rapidly grow and consolidate. Without a fair playing field, these corporations can easily drive out family farmers, or relegate them to working within opaque and unfair contract systems. We need to bring equity and efficiency back to our agricultural markets. We cannot continue to allow agricultural consolidation to grow unchecked at the expense of our nation’s family farmers, natural resources, and the American taxpayer.

The letter calls on Congress to ensure the 2018 Farm Bill addresses the “negative trends in agricultural market control and anti-competitive business structures if we are to have any hope of restoring the economic health of rural America.”

Let us continue to advocate, support, and pray for family farms.  Click here for prayers for rural families.

Robert Gronski is a Consultant for Catholic Rural Life. He tracks policy perspectives on food, farm, environmental, and rural community issues and helps frame these within the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching.