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"In The Hands Of The Few"

by Martha Stevens,
Hatfield, Missouri

Martha Stevens is livestock farmer who lives and farms near Hatfield, Missouri. This article is part of an ongoing series by Martha Stevens - Straight Talk - commenting on the life and politics of farming in Missouri and the U.S. as a whole.

If you’d like to own one of the country’s biggest packing plants, you’ll be glad to know that IBP is back on the market. IBP was all but counting its money on the way to the bank when Mr. Tyson took exception to the omission of certain financial facts regarding the company and backed out of what was considered a “done deal.” The Securities and Exchange Commission is seeking answers to its questions for IBP, too.

IBP denied there was anything wrong and expressed shock at this sudden turn of events, stating emphatically that if Tyson didn’t want them, they were sure Smithfield would jump back into the picture.

“Not interested,” Smithfield CEO Joseph Luter III replied. Whoops!

Speaking of Mr. Luter, that man has been mighty busy espousing his views on vertical integration. Speaking before Rabobank International’s Global Animal Protein Conference (whatever that is!) Luter pushed the corporate agenda as being the future for agriculture but conceded that he and others of similar persuasion would face stiff opposition form farmers and some politicians.

“We have to convince them that this is coming and it’s irreversible,” he insisted.

That is a tall order, Mr. Luter. A good many in the farming community, and their supporters, take exception to such claims, especially those dedicated men and women that you would so blithely cast aside.

Luter continued his rhetoric saying only those who “adapt” (meaning, knuckle under; grovel?) will survive, citing the old “get big or get out” theory of white collar “farmers.”

Those are the guys who pretend to be farmers (when expedient) but live in an affluent suburb, never get the nails or boots dirty, and hire someone else to do the work.

Like the latest nominee of the Bush administration for undersecretary of the USDA, Thomas Dorr (Marcus, Iowa). I don’t know Mr. Dorr so don’t speak from personal knowledge other than remarks I have heard him make in public -- which he does readily and often. I do however, have a healthy respect for the opinions of a man’s neighbors -- those who have to deal with him on a regular basis.

And Mr. Dorr’s neighbors are not a bit happy with the prospect of his being in a position to influence agriculture policy. They remind all that Dorr’s opinions on farming include the view that farming should be in the hands of the few…and the big.

His vision for agriculture was confirmed in an interview with the NY Times when he described a future for farming as 225,000 acre crop farms and supported the concept of mega livestock operations. One of his ideas of modern agriculture concerns the university extension services. “Bogged down in tradition and no longer serving a useful purpose,” he said of this service. Wow! That should endear him to all extension agents as well as those who use the services!

So, what about his own operation? Currently about 3,000 acres farmed by five hired men; Mr. Dorr lives in town, referring to himself as “President and CEO of Pine Grove Farm.”

Dorr is so confident of victory (his neighbors say arrogant) !

Published in In Motion Magazine - June 3, 2001

Also read other essays by Martha Stevens