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Family farmers express strong opposition to 2002 Farm Bill

On completion of House-Senate Farm Bill
negotiations on 2002 Farm Bill

Bill Christison
Washington, D.C.

Bill Christison. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke
Bill Christison. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke

Bill Christison is president of the National Family Farm Coalition and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. This National Family Farm Coalition statement was issued June 5, 2002.

I Family farmers are outraged at the results of the House and Senate farm bill conference agreement. Once again the debate in Washington has ignored the reality facing farmers and their rural communities; record low commodity prices, dwindling farm credit, and continuing loss of family farms.

Representative Larry Combest, the House Agriculture Committee chairman, has said publicly that the winners of this farm bill are American farmers. I strongly disagree. The winners in this farm bill are corporate agribusiness. This entire farm bill is based on the myths that trade will save the American farmer, yet history has shown that exports have not delivered on that promise. Low farm commodity prices increase the profits of processors and exporters, seed, and chemical companies.

The inequities of the 1996 Farm Bill will be compounded. Those farmers (and absentee landlords) that had been getting large payments will continue to receive them, while those left out of the system will fall further behind. Ten percent of the nation’s largest farms will receive 60% of the payments while the lowest 50% receive little or no payments.

The losers are our nation's independent family farmers who are struggling to stay on their farms, and the taxpayers who will be footing the bill for record high payment levels. Instead of changing the underlying structure of our failed farm policy, Congress will approve billions to compensate for bad public policy. This farm bill delivers farm income through taxpayer- financed payments to grain and dairy farmers and EQIP payments to corporate livestock factories. Family farmers want a fair price from the buyers of their products, not from the taxpayer.

Some view this farm bill as a victory for conservation, but more than 50% ($9 billion of the 17.1 billion) of the conservation funds are for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) which now allows an individual operator (including the nation’s corporate factory farms) to receive $450,000 over the six years.

The most important issues put into this debate by family farmers and grassroots farm organizations -- the ban on packer ownership of livestock, genuine payment limitations, a family-farmer focused EQIP, and significant increases in farm income through a higher loan rate or support price --either had little debate or were negotiated away during the process.

Therefore, we reaffirm our support for the policies embodied in the Food from Family Farms Act*

These include:

  • a fair price from the market for all grains and dairy (not taxpayer subsidies)
  • an effective domestic and international reserve program
  • a comprehensive competition title including a packer ban and limitation on captive supplies.

These policies would represent a real alternative to our current and proposed failed policies.

There are some new or expanded programs in this conference agreement that we have all supported. These include mandatory Country of Origin labeling for all meats and produce, the creation of an Under-Secretary at USDA for Civil Rights, the Conservation Security Program as a new entitlement program, reinstatement of Chapter 12 Bankruptcy until December 31, 2002, and the doubling of annual funding for the Community Food Projects (from $2.5 to $5 million).

Unfortunately, President George Bush and USDA Secretary Anne Veneman never made their farm bill positions public during the negotiation process. Rather than worry about the most important piece of farm legislation for the next decade, their only “farm programs” seem to be expansion of NAFTA and passing fast track trade authority. Choosing to take this course will only further destabilize our family farmers and rural communities as well as farmers and rural communities around the world.

The National Family Farm Coalition urges Members of Congress to reject the Farm Bill conference agreement this week. This agreement fails our nation’s family farmers, consumers, taxpayers and the environment. It fails to strengthen our nation’s food security and sovereignty. We expected far more from the leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. This farm bill will ensure the continued exodus from the land of our nation's independent family farmers.

*The Food from Family Farms Act is an alternative policy proposal developed by family farmers. Copies available from the National Family Farm Coalition or at .

Also see:

Published in In Motion Magazine, June 8, 2002.

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