Vote Expected on Dorgan-Grassley Amendment as Early as Today
Des Moines, Iowa – With a U.S. Senate vote expected as early as today, Senator John Edwards is urging members of the Senate to approve a cap in farm subsidy payments so that family farmers aren't at a competitive disadvantage to large corporate farms. The Dorgan-Grassley amendment is similar to what Edwards has proposed as part of his agenda to revitalize rural America.
Edwards is also outlining a comprehensive agenda to protect family farms against agribusiness conglomerates. In Iowa alone, more than 50,000 hog farms have disappeared in the last three decades – leaving fewer than 9,000 remaining today.
"I will never forget rural America -- it's part of who I am," said Edwards. "I am running for president to bring attention to the struggles of rural America, which are too often ignored by Washington. But I don't talk about family farming because of nostalgia. I talk about it because the corporate greed that's killing the family farm is hurting America. These farms and the men and women who work them don't have a hundred lobbyists in Washington. They depend on what small towns in America have always depended on – Americans standing up for each other.
"The farm bill is critically important to rural America, but today instead of serving the interests of family farms, big corporate farms receive the bulk of the subsidies. Corporate farms buy up land, consolidate farming operations, drive up the price of land and rents, contribute to overproduction, stifle innovation, and squeeze out smaller and younger farmers. It's time to put fair payment limits on farm subsidies to ensure that we're helping family farmers instead of lining the pockets of big agribusiness."
Edwards supports a "hard cap" of $250,000 on payments to individual farmers and their spouses. Edwards supports closing payment loopholes by strengthening standards for determining whether someone is "actively engaged" in farming and therefore eligible for subsidies. He will also repeal the three-entity rule that lets farmers avoid the limits through complex organizational structures.
A similar proposal before the Senate today – sponsored by Senators Byron Dorgan and Charles Grassley – would save more than $1 billion over 10 years, resources which can be reinvested in helping rural areas.
In addition to capping subsidies for corporate farms, Edwards has proposed seven other steps to help family farmers succeed. These include:
- Requiring country-of-origin labeling to help domestic farmers and ranchers;
- Passing a moratorium on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs);
- Imposing a packer ban to stop the spread of corporate hog farms;
- Boosting biofuel production;
- Enforcing anti-trust laws to prevent anticompetitive mergers and unfair pricing;
- Expanding conservation programs; and
- Encouraging young farmers by devoting new resources to rural youth development programs and beginning farmer initiatives.
As a native of small rural towns, Edwards understands that our country depends on rural communities for affordable food and increasingly for clean energy as well. In addition to the proposals to help family farms, Edwards has introduced detailed plans that will help bring rural communities back to life by reinvigorating their economies and helping struggling communities improve their schools, health care and other essential services.
For further details on Edwards' proposals to cap farm subsidies and help family farmers, please see the "Capping Subsidies for Big Corporate Farms" policy paper below.
Capping Subsidies for Big Corporate Farms
"These men and women who operate these farms don't have 100 lobbyists in Washington. They depend on what small towns have always depended on – Americans standing up for each other." -- John Edwards
As a native of small rural towns in farm states, John Edwards believes that America cannot turn its back on its farming communities and rural areas. America's future depends on the survival of our farming communities and protecting a safe and abundant food supply and achieving energy independence. Small towns and rural areas are also the keepers of American values like family, work, community, and freedom.
The farm bill is critically important to rural America, but today our farm policies serve the interests of big corporate farms not ordinary family farms. Today, John Edwards described his support for fair payment limits that will ensure that farm payments help regular farmers, not put them at a competitive disadvantage to large corporate farms.
Fair Payment Limits to Help Family Farms
Farm programs were created to help family farms survive and prosper, but today they are backfiring. The bulk of subsidies go to large farms, which buy up land, consolidate farming operations, drive up the price of land and rents, contribute to overproduction, stifle innovation, and squeeze out smaller and younger farmers. The size of the average farm has doubled in the past two decades. The top 20 percent of farmers collect 80 percent of farm subsidy direct payments, made regardless of farm income or crop prices. The value of farmland in Iowa has grown by 72 percent since 2000 to $3200 an acre. [Center for Rural Affairs, 2007; Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, 2007; Washington Post, 12/21/2006; EWG, 2007; ISU, 2007]
Edwards called for fair payment limits on farm subsidies to target federal subsidies to family farmers who need them, not big corporate farms. A similar proposal before the Senate today – sponsored by Sens. Byron Dorgan and Charles Grassley – would save more than $1 billion over 10 years, resources which can be reinvested in helping rural areas. [Southeast Farm Press, 11/7/2007]
- Limiting Subsidies to $250,000 per Farm: Edwards supports a "hard cap" of $250,000 on payments to individual farmers and their spouses.
- Closing Loopholes: Payment limits in current law are full of loopholes that let farmers evade limits. Edwards will strengthen standards for determining whether someone is "actively engaged" in farming and therefore eligible for subsidies. He will also repeal the three-entity rule that lets farmers avoid the limits through complex organizational structures.
The Edwards Agenda for Family Farmers
- Require Country-of-Origin Labels: Despite increasing concern about the safety of food imports from countries like China and interest in buying local produce, mandatory country-of-origin labels for meat products have been repeatedly blocked by large meat packers, agribusiness lobbyists and retailers like Wal-Mart. Consumers continue to be left in the dark regarding the origin of their food. Edwards will end the delays and start enforcing mandatory country-of-origin labeling, giving Americans the information they need to choose the best food for their families. This will also help domestic farmers and ranchers by giving consumers the option of choosing safe, American-raised meat and motivate foreign producers to make safety a priority and move our food supply system toward fuller accountability for the safety of what we eat. [USDA, 2007; The Hill, 4/7/05; National Family Farm Coalition, 2007]
- Pass a Moratorium on CAFOs: Large-scale livestock operations have displaced family farms. For example, the number of hog farms in Iowa has declined from 59,000 to fewer than 9,000 since 1978. Large-scale lagoons concentrate thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of animals in one location, producing billions of pounds of untreated waste. Edwards is calling for a moratorium on new and expanded concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), while allowing local communities to opt out. [Honeyman and Duffy, 2006]
- Impose a Packer Ban: Large corporate meat packers are driving small and medium-size farmers out of business by influencing livestock prices and restricting access to markets. Just four corporations control approximately 66 percent of the pork market and 84 percent of the beef market. Communities with laws that discourage corporate farming have lower poverty and unemployment rates. Edwards will enact a strong national ban on packer ownership so family livestock producers can get fair prices in a competitive market. [Hendrickson & Heffernan, 2007; Cattle Buyer's Weekly, 2003; Welsh & Lyson, 2001]
- Boost Biofuel Production: Edwards will create a New Economy Energy Fund – financed by the sale of global warming pollution permits and an end to oil industry giveaways – to develop new methods of producing and using corn and cellulosic ethanol. He will make the renewable production tax credit permanent, offer loan guarantees to encourage new refineries and support skills training to make sure the jobs go to local residents. Edwards will also require oil companies to install biofuel pumps at 25 percent of their gas stations and require all new cars sold after 2010 to be "flex fuel" cars running on either gasoline or biofuel.
- Enforce Antitrust Laws: Food production is concentrated in the hands of a few, very large conglomerates. Three companies process 71 percent of the soybean market. Edwards will strictly enforce laws against anticompetitive mergers and unfair pricing. [Hendrickson and Heffernan, 2007]
- Expand Conservation Programs: Farm groups, hunters and anglers, and environmentalists can all agree on one thing: conservation is an incredibly important component of modern farm and land management policy. It provides purer water, cleaner air, improved soil conservation, and enhanced wildlife benefits to all Americans. Edwards supports expanding agricultural conservation programs and simplifying access so more farmers can benefit from them.
- Encourage Young Farmers: Senior citizens own half of Iowa's farmland, and young farmers are getting priced out of farming. Edwards will devote new resources to rural youth development programs and beginning farmer initiatives that connect young people with retiring farmers as well as offering grants, loans, and business advice. [NY Times, 8/8/07; USDA, 2007]