Monday, April 10, 2017

What's good for Big Ag isn't always good for rural America, 'Food and Farm File' columnist opines

Farm, ranch, and commodity groups are no longer preaching or practicing unity, creating a farm-nonfarm divide in rural America, opines Alan Guebert in his "Food and Farm File" column: "That culture of togetherness hasn’t aged well in the age Big Ag and Big Agbiz. American farm and ranch groups, like urban and political America, are now less social and more tribal. Many tightly grip a 'we’re-right, you’re-wrong' view of farm and food technology, policy and their customers."

Guebert notes that the National Pork Producers Council moved its headquarters from rural America to Washington, D.C., and says major livestock and meatpacker groups have supported legislation that would hurt rural areas. For example, groups, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withdraw proposed rule changes to the Farmer Fair Practice rules that "would ensure packers cannot retaliate against producers who show their contracts to legal counsel.”

Guebert writes, "Why would any livestock group oppose a sensible, necessary rule that allows American cattle and hog growers to 'show their (meatpacker) contracts to legal counsel' without fear of retaliation?" NCBA "said the rules would lead to meatpackers paying one price for all U.S. cattle." Guebert says "that’s an absurd and ridiculous claim with no factual basis—other than a study NPPC and NCBA bought and paid for—that went unchallenged by other commodity groups, unanswered by USDA, and uncommented on by any member of congressional ag committees."

Also, one of the biggest farm groups in the U.S., the American Farm Bureau Federation, quietly endorsed a House plan to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Guebert notes. "AFBF offered neither a replacement plan for the millions of Americans—many in rural America—who would lose insurance coverage under the repeal nor any suggestion to improve the ACA if it remained. Moreover, the AFBF announcement didn’t mention that several of its state affiliates own and operate regional, rural-focused insurance companies who might benefit, some handsomely, if the entire ACA was repealed and no federal replacement took its place."

"There was a time when what was good for rural America was good for farmers and farm groups," Guebert writes. "We’ve now flipped that to read: What’s good for farm groups might be good for farmers and rural America. That change, subtle as it seems, seems to change everything. Many farm and commodity groups are often viewed as anti-customer, anti-environment, and anti-neighbor bottom-line grubbers. Are they?"

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