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The Hill | Five Fights Brewing in the Crucial $1.4 Trillion Farm Bill

Mon, 03/20/2023 - 13:55

Reposted from:

The future of American food production is up for grabs this year.

With the nation’s farm bill expiring this September — along with a wide array of crucial programs that put food on American plates — lawmakers are on the clock to craft a farm bill that can pass the divided Congress. 

The House and Senate agriculture committees will hold a series of hearings akin to a large and acrimonious family Thanksgiving: heated debates with everyone united in the desire to fill their plates. 

Among the dinner guests: big agriculture lobbyists, farm-to-table advocates, child nutrition groups, conservation organizations, climate change activists, U.S. states seeking support for fighting wildfires, droughts and other disasters — and of course the lawmakers themselves. 

Here are the five biggest fault lines shaping up this year, from the upcoming battle over everything from $20 billion in climate funding to the question of what to do with the nation’s animal waste.

How much can we afford?

The biggest hurdle for this year’s farm bill is the same as every other bill moving through the divided Congress: it needs enough votes to pass. 

And that will likely require cobbling together votes on both sides of the aisle, which means going far enough on issues like climate change and food benefits to incentivize Democrats without scaring off too many Republicans with the price tag. 

“We keep hearing that this needs to be a value-neutral bill — no new moneys,” Vanessa García Polanco, a lobbyist for the Young Farmer’s Coalition, told The Hill.

At the same time, existing federal agriculture dollars aren’t going as far as they used to — eaten up by rising prices for fuel, equipment and fertilizer. To make matters worse, American agriculture has been pounded by years of extreme weather — from floods and tornadoes to wildfires and flash drought — and the aftermath of former President Trump’s trade war with China. 

Some Republicans propose to square that circle by cutting SNAP, the food assistance program that accounts for about 80 percent of farm bill spending. On Tuesday, Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) introduced legislation requiring SNAP recipients to work.

But President Biden and Senate Democrats are sure to balk at any significant cuts to SNAP, and the program isn’t the only big-ticket item jostling for funding. 

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) will join the major commodities lobbies, like the National Corn Growers Association, in pushing for a permanent disaster package: an attempt to end the system of agriculture having to continually seek “ad hoc” disaster declarations.

Wayne Stoskopf, of the National Corn Growers Association, said the commodity groups will argue that such a proactive package would be “more cost-effective and efficient” over time — but that money will still have to be found on the front end. 

That gives House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) two paths: try to pass a bill that can pick up 40 Democrats, effectively sidelining the far-right Freedom Caucus, or try to pass a more conservative bill that unites all Republicans, but likely hits a roadblock in the Senate. 

Ethan Lane, head lobbyist at the NCBA, thinks that practicality will win out. “The top line focus is a package that can pass,” he said. “Eyes on the prize.”

What does ‘conservation’ even mean?

Farmers – and farm-state legislators — love to talk about farmers as “the original conservationists.” But in the fight to define conservation in the farm bill, the knives are already coming out. And the alliances aren’t always predictable. 

“You can’t say that ‘Republicans will go against climate, while Democrats will demand more climate money,’” said Joe Maxwell, president of agriculture advocacy group Farm Action.

Both Republicans and Democrats are splintered into interest groups — with proponents on both sides of both independent producers and near-monopolies; of factory farming and regenerative agriculture. 

Expect Republicans to argue against anything that smacks of regulations. In a Senate hearing on conservation and the farm bill earlier this month, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) called for climate incentives to be “voluntary, incentive-based and flexible.” 

Similarly, Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member John Boozman (R-Ark.) raised concerns that climate funds wouldn’t be available to “producers unable to implement climate or carbon sequestration projects.”

Progressive groups fear that Democrats and most Republicans will push for climate funds to be redirected to “benefit the global industrial food system,” a colossal source of emissions, Maxwell said.

Conservation groups, by contrast, will push for tighter carbon and climate accounting attached to those dollars to ensure they’re going to the most cost-effective places.   

Should we raid the climate kitty?

Congressional Democrats passed $20 billion in funding for “climate-smart agriculture” last summer along party lines. The farm bill will offer a platform to debate how that money should be spent. 

According to the Inflation Reduction Act, more than 90 percent of that money is supposed to be split among several extremely popular Department of Agriculture programs, including training and grants for American farmers interested in increasing the ecological health of their lands.

The new funding aimed to clear up a bottleneck in these programs. 

Between 2010 and 2020, for example, less than a third of farmers who applied to the government’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) received grants. And that keeps farmers out of the (similarly oversubscribed) programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program, which is restricted to past EQIP recipients.

One major reason many farmers— particularly farmers of color — fail to get EQIP funds is that by law, half of those funds are restricted to livestock operations. 

In 2020, about 11 percent of all EQIP funds went to feedlots — much of it to build manure lagoons for hogs and cattle. 

The Inflation Reduction Act attacked this from two directions: pouring $8.5 billion into EQIP, $3 billion for the Conservation Stewardship Program and $5 billion into the Regional Conservation Program — and it also eliminated the livestock carve-out.

But Congress has the power to cut all the strings attached to that money, and some Republicans will likely use fiscal concerns to call for reapportioning that funding using the farm bill, said Lane of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

The House and Senate Agriculture Committees will debate how far they want to stretch the meaning of “climate-smart agriculture,” and where that money is best used. 

Foreshadowing this fight, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced legislation earlier this month that would boost EQIP funding for the most cost-effective practices (like no-till agriculture, crop rotations and letting forests grow along creeks) while slashing them for relatively inefficient practices, like digging waste-pits, clearing land and building roads.

Go big or go small?

The farm bill will also spur broader conversations about the future of American agriculture, and the balance between Big Agriculture and smaller-scale farms. 

Regional agriculture advocates like Farm Action’s Joe Maxwell believe that decades of farm bill programs have helped transform America’s farm sector from a network of family businesses to one dominated by a few large corporations, from seed and feed to the grocery store.

And while the farm bill may seem like a venue to adjust course, its focus has grown small, Maxwell argued. “The farm bill is a bunch of arguments siloed by title and subcommittee assignments,” he said. “No one looks at how our farm programs have gotten us.”

Some of the policy changes that could reverse this are very small. Right now, farmers trying to buy land using federally backed credit programs have to face weeks or months of waiting every time they apply for a loan — allowing buyers with cash to scoop them, Polanco of the Young Farmers Coalition told The Hill.

Others are more ambitious: like a lower cap to EQIP program grants to keep the biggest producers from eating up most of the money. “What if we lowered that cap, and you spread that money out amongst more farms,” asked Patty Lovera, policy director at the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment.

Or Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) push for more transparency in cattle markets, where most deals happen in secret.

There will also be a heated battle around mandatory certificate of origin labeling — introduced but failed last year — that would require producers to say whether their products were made in the U.S., from U.S. ingredients. 

On Wednesday, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) kicked off that fight in the House with the USA Beef Act, which would require meat marketed as a “Product of the USA” to have been born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. That would replace a prior system that allowed beef producers, for example, to claim that cattle raised and slaughtered in Brazil or Mexico were products of the U.S. — so long as they were repackaged here. 

Lovera argues such rigorous “Made in the USA” labeling — which could help small producers justify charging more money to cover their higher overhead — will help stand up the Biden administration’s planned new network of independent regional slaughterhouses.

But she echoed other local agriculture proponents in arguing that the only way to allow small-scale agriculture to have a shot is to trim the size of international heavyweights like Cargill, Tyson, Smithfield or JBS.

“We don’t want to invest in these little plants — and five years from now, they’re like, ‘it’s too hard’ and Tyson buys them,” she said.

What to do with farm waste?

Nowhere is the fight between big and small more contentious than over the question of what to do with the millions of gallons of animal feces and urine that pour off the nation’s factory farms — the management of which takes up more than 10 percent of EQIP funding.

“Having manure management and properly designed lagoons and things like that isn’t bad,” said Tom Zimnicki of the Great Lakes Alliance. “But if we have a limited pool of conservation dollars, it doesn’t make sense to be taking that much money off the top every year to pay for something that is effectively a business expense.”

The nation’s growing biogas industry will likely seek more money — and make a climate-based case for why it should get it. Biogas producers see those waste lagoons as a potential climate-saving resource — a source of methane that can be used to create electricity and heat homes rather than warming the planet. 

There are 2,300 operational systems in the United States capturing methane from human and animal waste — a number that could increase more than sevenfold with the right incentives, Patrick Serfass, executive director of the American Biogas Council, told The Hill.

The industry will argue that such “biodigesters” that break down farm waste into gas and fertilizer have profound climate benefits — and should be permitted nationally, rather than left to the discretion of state administrators.

Yet environmental groups question whether this “locks in” a system of high-emitting and unsustainable agriculture, and are wary of anything that will institute large-scale biogas before we have a better sense of how beneficial it is to the climate. 

They want federal conservation money put into waste management to be tied to measurable outcomes — like observable cleaning up of the fertilizer-contaminated rivers that feed algae-causing nitrates into the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.

As it stands, “there isn’t any accountability for spending those dollars in a way that’s … most cost efficient to achieve water quality improvements that we’re all looking for,” Zimnicki said.

The post The Hill | Five Fights Brewing in the Crucial $1.4 Trillion Farm Bill first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Corporate Interests Drive U.S. Imperial Overreach on Mexico’s GM Corn Ban

Tue, 03/14/2023 - 10:47

Much to the dismay of the U.S. government, Mexico is following through with its ban on genetically modified (GM) corn and its herbicide counterpart, glyphosate. In response, the U.S. is wielding its power on behalf of the world’s largest agriculture monopoly corporations to force their industrial technology onto Mexico.

This is a modern form of imperialism paralleling the circumstances that led to the Boston Tea Party and American independence — when the British Parliament pushed the East India Company tea monopoly onto the American colonists.

Today, the USDA is promoting the economic interests of seed and chemical companies — like Bayer, which now owns Monsanto — and ignoring the premium market opportunity Mexico’s demand for non-GM corn presents to U.S. farmers.

State of the Corn Dispute

In 2020, Mexico announced its plan to phase out all GM corn and glyphosate by 2024. After more than a year of contentious meetings between the U.S. and Mexico, the USDA is still firm on its stance to bully Mexico into accepting our GM corn — and it’s yielded a temporary concession from Mexico.

Last month, Mexico scrapped the 2024 deadline on GM corn imports for yellow corn used for livestock feed. The country decreed instead that it would phase out GM corn gradually, as it replaces its livestock feed supply with non-GM corn, either through domestic production or via non-GM imports.

But rather than seizing this opportunity by transitioning U.S. farmers to the production of non-GM corn and by supporting existing non-GM farmers for this new export market, the U.S. announced that it’s taking the initial steps to challenge Mexico’s ban by requesting technical consultations under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. If the two parties fail to reach an agreement, the U.S. can initiate a dispute resolution process with a third-party panel. If no resolution is reached, it could ultimately lead to retaliatory U.S. tariffs.

USDA’s Position Goes Against the Foundation of Our Country

The U.S. was founded on the very idea that the government shouldn’t push a company off onto another country. It’s a principle that led to the Boston Tea Party, a major catalyst for the American Revolution.

This pivotal rebellion was born when colonists repudiated the East India Company’s monopoly on the American tea trade, which had been granted by Parliament through the Tea Act. The move was an attempt to save the company from bankruptcy, as it was a major player in the British economy. The Tea Act also allowed the East India Company to commission agents with the sole right to sell tea in the colonies, cutting out all opportunities for colonial tea merchants. The colonists didn’t think too highly of this imperial overreach — the rest is history.

Yet here the U.S. is, 250 years later, adamantly pushing GM corn — grown from seeds that are manufactured by just a handful of chemical companies — off onto Mexico against the country’s will.

Who Benefits from This Trade Dispute?

The USDA justifies its actions by claiming it’s standing up for farmers — yet we’re denying corn growers an enormous opportunity to step in and take advantage of this premium market opportunity. Shifting three million acres to non-GM corn to meet Mexico’s demand would bring in $150 million in premiums for U.S. farmers.

Rather, it’s all about advancing the economic interests of the world’s largest chemical and seed monopolies. The commercial seed market is dominated by just four chemical companies — Bayer, Corteva, BASF, and Syngenta — whose patented, GM seeds are the most accessible to farmers. Our government already props up these corporate giants with taxpayer money through crop insurance and biofuel investments, but that’s not enough for these greedy companies.

Chemical and seed companies have been outspoken about their pressure campaign on the U.S. government to challenge Mexico’s ban. Luckily for them, the USDA seems to have forgotten the very foundation this country stands upon — or worse, they simply don’t care. When a handful of powerful corporations control our food and agriculture system, their interests come first — at the expense of everyone else.

Farm Action will continue to encourage Secretary Vilsack to reverse his position and support the growth of a premium corn market for U. S. farmers.

Written and edited by Jessica Cusworth, Dee Laninga, and Joe Maxwell; concept developed by Joe Maxwell and Angela Huffman

The post Corporate Interests Drive U.S. Imperial Overreach on Mexico’s GM Corn Ban first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

DTN/Progressive Farmer | Proposed USDA ‘Product of USA’ Meat Label Draws Mixed Reaction

Wed, 03/08/2023 - 07:35

Reposted from:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday that USDA was releasing a proposed rule with new regulatory requirements to better align the voluntary “Product of USA” label claim with consumer understanding of what the claim means.

Vilsack released the proposed rule during a speech to the National Farmers Union meeting, which prompted applause and standing ovations from the Democratic-leaning attendees.

“This rule is about truth in labeling, plain and simple,” NFU President Rob Larew said. He added, “For too long, family farmers and ranchers have been competing in a market where imported products were fraudulently labeled as a product of the United States. Thank you Secretary Vilsack and USDA for bringing more fairness for farmers and ranchers across the country.”

In a news release, USDA noted that the proposed rule allows the voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim to be used on meat, poultry and egg products only when they are derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States.

“American consumers expect that when they buy a meat product at the grocery store, the claims they see on the label mean what they say,” Vilsack said in a news release.

“These proposed changes are intended to provide consumers with accurate information to make informed purchasing decisions. Our action today affirms USDA’s commitment to ensuring accurate and truthful product labeling.”

“Truthful labels protect consumers and keep the playing field fair,” said Joe Maxwell, president and co-founder of Farm Action. “After a five-year fight, we’re pleased to see the USDA stepping up to stop the cheaters picking the pockets of America’s farmers and ranchers.”

“Our petition filed in 2018 has finally been acted on,” said Carrie Balkcom, executive director of American Grassfed Association.

“We are pleased to have the USDA act on the ‘Product of U.S.A.’ as promised in the executive order issued by President Biden in July 2021. This proposed rulemaking change will help American grassfed farmers not be undercut by mislabeled meat coming from offshore. We will continue to work with Farm Action to make meat labels truthful.”

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association President Justin Tupper said, “USCA is pleased to see that the proposed rule finally closes this loophole by accurately defining what these voluntary origin claims mean, something we have been working to clarify since the repeal of mandatory country-of-origin labeling in 2015.”

“If it says, ‘Made in the USA,’ then it should be from cattle that have only known USA soil. Consumers have the right to know where their food comes from, full stop.”

But the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was less enthusiastic.

NCBA Executive Director of Government Affairs Kent Bacus said, “There is no question that the current ‘Product of USA’ label for beef is flawed, and it undercuts the ability of U.S. cattle producers to differentiate U.S. beef in the marketplace.”

“For the past few years, NCBA’s grassroots-driven efforts have focused on addressing problems with the existing label, and we will continue working to find a voluntary, trade-compliant solution that promotes product differentiation and delivers profitable solutions and for U.S. cattle producers.

“Simply adding born, raised, and harvested requirements to an already broken label will fail to deliver additional value to cattle producers and it will undercut true voluntary, market-driven labels that benefit cattle producers. We cannot afford to replace one flawed government label with another flawed government label,” Bacus said.

R-CALF USA said the group supports the proposed reforms to the “Product of USA” label, but R-CALF “remains steadfast” that only legislation in Congress will bring effective change. The group called for passing of the American Beef Labeling Act (S.52) that reinstates mandatory country of origin labeling for beef.

“It is important to understand that the “Product of USA” label is simply a clarification of a voluntary label,” said R-CALF USA President Brett Kenzy. “I fear that it will be used at the convenience of global meatpackers and importers. The voluntary label will continue the need for purchase of American beef by consumers to be a research project; beef from foreign countries will continue to bear the USDA inspection stamp.”

When asked at a news conference if this rule could be a prelude to re-establishing mandatory country of origin labeling, Vilsack noted that the Obama administration had lost cases on that program in the World Trade Organization three times, and that he has yet to see a proposal that would meet WTO requirements.

He also announced that USDA will spend $89 million to expand independent meat and processing capacity.

Vilsack also said that USDA is creating a liaison with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to work on the issue of companies patenting seed.

That process, Vilsack said, will look at basic research and the ways that companies “stack traits” on seeds whether they are needed or not.

Paying for seed, Vilsack said, is “like a cable bill” for programs you don’t watch.

“We want to make sure that as things are stacked we look at things from a local and regional perspective,” he said.

In his speech, Vilsack repeated comments he made recently to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the Agricultural Outlook Forum that the current farm system benefits bigger producers, and that he does not agree with a comment by Sonny Perdue, the Agriculture secretary in the Trump administration, that farmers have to get big or get out.

The Biden administration, Vilsack said, is committed to creating more ways for smaller and medium-sized producers to be able to make a living.

The post DTN/Progressive Farmer | Proposed USDA ‘Product of USA’ Meat Label Draws Mixed Reaction first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Food and Farm Groups Applaud the Biden Administration for Promoting Fair Competition in Seed

Mon, 03/06/2023 - 13:41

Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), Farm Action, Open Market Institute, and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition applaud a new report released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), More and Better Choices for Farmers: Promoting Fair Competition and Innovation in Seeds and Other Agricultural Inputs. The report is a response to a July 9, 2021, Executive Order, titled “Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” and includes findings from a 2022 public comment period and listening forum, and interviews and other investigative efforts.

The seed industry is one of the most consolidated sectors in agriculture, with just four companies controlling more than 60% of the commercial seed marketplace. As U.S. infrastructure for public plant breeding decreases, and more independent seed companies vanish, seed is increasingly concentrated in the hands of multinational firms to the detriment of American farmers and the communities they feed. There is an urgent need to rebalance the playing field between corporate players and independent growers, plant breeders, and seed companies. Thankfully, today’s report outlines critical strategies for injecting fairness back into our food and agriculture supply chain.

“The report released today is an historical effort to address long-standing problems in our highly consolidated seed marketplace,” says Kiki Hubbard, OSA’s director of advocacy. “Increasing fairness, transparency, and resiliency in U.S. agriculture are timely goals and we are grateful the USDA is putting the spotlight on seed, the first link in our food production chain.” 

As today’s report notes, seed consolidation and intellectual property (IP) issues are complex and interrelated, spanning IP law, antitrust law, and public investments in our food system. Importantly, the USDA has identified opportunities for interagency coordination with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Department of Justice, and Federal Trade Commission to promote fair competition. Through coordination, these agencies will assess the impact of seed industry consolidation and IP rights on pricing, choice, and availability of plant varieties and the impact of reduced competition on food security, genetic diversity, and regional food systems. 

Other steps USDA is taking include:

  • USDA-AMS is establishing a Farmer Seed Liaison to ensure “a voice for farmers and plant breeders.” This position will facilitate communications between farmers, plant breeders, and relevant agencies that touch on the IP system to enhance the quality of the patent examination process and reduce confusion around seed IP rights. USDA is also expanding its portal to enable farmers and businesses to report tips and complaints related to competition and consumer protection in the seed marketplace.
  • USDA is also partnering with USPTO on a new Working Group on Competition and Intellectual Property to collaborate on initiatives that enhance the transparency of IP information, including exploring potential research and plant breeder exemptions for U.S. utility patents.
  • USDA is using its authority under the Federal Seed Act to ensure that farmers have access to the information they need through labeling requirements to make the best choices in the seed marketplace.
  • USDA is identifying priorities for additional public plant breeding and seed system investments, including in crops and regions currently underserved by the private sector and through partnerships between public entities, non-profit organizations, and historically marginalized communities who are original stewards of many varieties. 

In addition to the recommendations outlined in the report, our groups support a moratorium on new seed industry mergers and acquisitions attempted by the Big Three: Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta-ChemChina, and Dow-DuPont. Currently, these dominant firms own and control large swaths of traits, germplasm, agrochemicals, and data platforms. Groups would also like to see coordinated initiatives to include retrospective reviews of these mergers and any impacts to farmers, competing firms, and other stakeholders. Finally, groups would like to see commercial cultivars developed with public dollars to remain in the public domain free of restrictions on seed-saving, research, and breeding.

“Consolidation in the seed sector has had devastating impacts: Farmers are exploited by corporate designs, consumers have less choice, and the death of innovation could spell starvation for future generations,” says Sarah Carden, senior policy advocate at Farm Action. “Farm Action celebrates USDA’s report and its commitment to collaborate with the USPTO, DOJ, and FTC to address competition in this critical sector. We look forward to working with the agency as it pushes back against the incursion of monopoly power.” 

“Dominant seed monopolists abuse intellectual property law to threaten new competitors and stifle seed innovation,” says Claire Kelloway, food program director for the Open Markets Institute. “USDA’s latest report shines a light on these and other tactics that push out smaller, independent seed businesses. We’re encouraged that USDA will work with antitrust enforcers to ensure fair competition in such an essential sector and that the agency acknowledges the need to invest in public seed breeding infrastructure.”

“NSAC applauds today’s announcement as USDA continues to address issues of consolidation in our food system,” says Nick Rossi, policy associate for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Over the last several decades, the seed development industry has become increasingly consolidated and farmers bear the burden through record-high input prices. By better supporting public plant breeding and research, we can ensure that all farmers have access to high performing, locally adapted seeds – no matter where they farm or what they grow.” 

Media Contacts:

Kiki Hubbard, Organic Seed Alliance, (406) 544-8946,

Dee Laninga, Farm Action, (202) 450-0094,

Claire Kelloway, Open Markets Institute, (952) 221-9922,

The post Food and Farm Groups Applaud the Biden Administration for Promoting Fair Competition in Seed first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Farm and Ranch Groups Applaud USDA’s “Product of U.S.A.” Label Announcement

Mon, 03/06/2023 - 07:42

Farm Action and American Grassfed Association applaud USDA’s announcement of a proposed rule limiting the use of the voluntary “Product of U.S.A.” label exclusively to meat, poultry, and egg products derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States.

In 2018 while at a previous organization, Farm Action co-founders drafted a petition filed jointly with American Grassfed Association, making the legal case for the USDA to stop allowing imported meat to bear a “Product of U.S.A.” label. In March 2020 and February 2022, the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service referenced that petition as it announced it would take up the issue.

Current policy allows imported meat to bear a “Product of U.S.A.” label provided it passes through a USDA-inspected plant. This heavily exploited loophole has allowed multinational corporations to import meat, repackage it, and pass it off as a higher-quality product raised by U.S. farmers and ranchers. Today’s announcement is an important step toward closing this loophole, and was met with applause by the groups that initiated the effort.

“Truthful labels protect consumers and keep the playing field fair,” said Joe Maxwell, president and co-founder of Farm Action. “After a five year fight, we’re pleased to see the USDA stepping up to stop the cheaters picking the pockets of America’s farmers and ranchers.”

“Our petition filed in 2018 has finally been acted on,” said Carrie Balkcom, executive director of American Grassfed Association. “We are pleased to have the USDA act on the “Product of U.S.A.” as promised in the executive order issued by President Biden in July 2021. This proposed rulemaking change will help American grassfed farmers not be undercut by mislabeled meat coming from offshore. We will continue to work with Farm Action to make meat labels truthful.”

Misuse of the voluntary “Product of U.S.A.” label began after Congress rolled back Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL) on beef and pork in 2015. MCOOL required all meat labels to disclose the country where the animals were born, raised, and slaughtered. Currently MCOOL covers lamb, chicken and other food commodities. 

Today’s action by USDA to end the abuse of the voluntary “Product of U.S.A.” label is a crucial step toward bringing fairness to the marketplace, but Congress still must act to restore MCOOL for beef and pork to ensure all meat product labels disclose the product’s origin.

Farm Action will continue to pursue its Truth in Labeling campaign, coordinating with American Grassfed Association and other advocates to stop multinational meatpacking corporations from skirting the law and ensure U.S. consumers are provided the information they need to support American farmers and ranchers.

Media Contacts: 

Dee Laninga,, 202-450-0094

Carrie Balkcom,, 303-591-3978

The post Farm and Ranch Groups Applaud USDA’s “Product of U.S.A.” Label Announcement first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Crop Insurance: How the Big Farms Get Bigger

Thu, 03/02/2023 - 09:24

Farming is full of risks and uncertainties. Between natural disasters, extreme weather, pest infestation, disease, high input costs, or low commodity prices, risks abound that can swiftly tank farming operations. 

That’s where the U.S. farm support programs come in. Yet, these insurance programs have insidious effects on the greater food and agriculture system. Crop insurance — which is heavily subsidized by taxpayers — is a major driver of consolidation in our food system.

These insurance programs are structured so that the more acreage you have to insure, the more taxpayer money you are able to get. Over the last two decades, the largest and wealthiest farms have received the lion’s share of subsidies — 78 percent of annual commodity payments go to the top 10 percent of recipients (as measured by farm sales), and the top one percent alone receive 27 percent of the payments. This imbalanced payment dispersal exacerbates the plight smaller farms have been facing for decades: They have to get big or get out. As many are forced to abandon farming and the larger operations snatch up farmland, the ripple effects of consolidation have catastrophic impacts across rural communities and the environment.

One way that Farm Action is fighting to reform this abusive system is by calling for a requirement to be added to the 2023 Farm Bill for farmers to meet certain conservation standards in order to participate in federal farm support programs. Now, in a new report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is echoing our call by recommending the USDA require producer adoption of conservation practices to claim crop insurance premium subsidies.

Crop Insurance Makes Farming Less Risky — For Some

The government’s farm support programs include commodity support programs, disaster assistance programs, and the federal crop insurance program (FCIP). FCIP’s subsidized insurance programs offer revenue protection in the case of low market prices or crop failure at a favorable rate for farmers — taxpayers cover about 60 percent of the total insurance premiums, while farmers only pay 40 percent.

FCIP policies primarily cover conventionally grown commodity crops like corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar, and wheat. There are fewer and less accessible insurance options available for specialty crop farmers who produce nutritious fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts. This leaves many of these farmers unable to leverage the same taxpayer support that those growing commodity crops — which are primarily used for livestock feed and unhealthy processed foods — receive year after year.

Farmers have to play the hands they’re dealt, so many are driven to grow commodity crops thanks to the accessibility of these lucrative insurance coverage options. As more farmers are driven to farm exclusively for these subsidies, the supply of these select crops increases and drives down market prices. But never fear, because that’s precisely what insurance covers: Farmers are guaranteed to get paid most of the expected revenue of those crops even if market prices are low. As a result, heavily-subsidized farmers no longer have to make market-driven decisions to ensure their operations are profitable. When that risk is removed, it opens the door for greed to take over.

The Hidden Impacts of Crop Insurance

Farmers can make big bucks on insurance payouts when they’ve got large commodity farming operations. For every dollar farmers pay in premiums, they get back more than $2.20 in claims on average — an annual return of 120 percent. Since there’s no limit on these payments or acreage, farmers can enroll unlimited acres, motivating them to convert as much land as they can into row crops. 

Even land that’s clearly become ill-suited for farming can be insured and turn a profit, like the farmland around the Mississippi River that faces frequent, predictable floods. Insurance payments to farmers in this area totaled $1.5 billion over the last two decades. Crop insurance enables this otherwise highly risky land to turn a profit year after year, flood after flood.

Large farm operations flush with cash from these programs can then use that money to outbid cash-strapped farmers without access to these programs, or farmers who receive smaller payments because of their smaller operation sizes, on land purchases and rental rates. 

These remaining farmers, while they may do well financially, are still trapped on the Big Ag treadmill, farming exclusively for subsidies. The only way to stay afloat appears to be by squeezing as many bushels out of their soil as possible with the use of synthetic inputs and farming every inch of land they can. It means applying more pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer, to the detriment of their land and the environment.

These programs incentivize excessive fertilizer use in particular because payouts for many programs can be greater with higher established yield averages. Farmers with access to more acreage are able to manipulate this further by moving their records around so that they can make insurance claims on some fields while using others to establish higher Actual Production History (APH) values.

The result is ultimately fewer, larger consolidated farming operations that degrade the land and hollow out rural communities.

The farms that don’t get big must get out: Many farmers move away from the communities where their families thrived for generations — leaving a hollowed-out shell of what these communities once were. As more families leave, the schools, independent shops, and locally-owned agriculture businesses fail as well. The spirit of these rural communities is eroded as large, industrial operations take over. “It becomes more important to have your neighbor’s land than it is to have your neighbor,” as Farm Action Local Leader Kevin Fulton explained in his op-ed.

An Unsustainable Insurance System

The increased frequency, duration, and severity of extreme weather is wreaking havoc on our agricultural system, and our crop insurance premium subsidies and disaster relief payments to farmers are skyrocketing as a result. In 2021, premium subsidies climbed to $8.6 billion — up from $7 billion in 2020 — and Congress appropriated a whopping $15 billion in aid to farmers for natural disasters between 2018-2021.

Yet the very operations that contribute most to extreme weather events — giant, industrialized farming operations — are the ones raking in the majority of these insurance payments. Meanwhile, producers with diversified farms are left with few insurance options to protect their operations from these damages.

GAO Recommendations

With our agricultural producers on the front lines of extreme weather impacts, we must reform our farm support programs to meet these challenges. The GAO, which provides fact-based, nonpartisan information to Congress about federal spending and performance, released recommendations to the USDA to improve farmers’ resiliency to extreme weather.

In their report, they noted the importance of researching the feasibility of incorporating extreme weather resilience into crop insurance rates, which would help set premiums that accurately reflect extreme weather risks. They also recommended requiring producers to adopt conservation practices, such as cover cropping and reduced tillage, in order to claim crop insurance premium subsidies, or offering premium subsidies for extreme weather-resilient operations.

The GAO also recommends requiring producer adoption of conservation practices to maintain Farm Bill Title I program eligibility, such as commodity support programs, to decrease the likelihood that Title I programs will subsidize the kinds of agricultural production that contribute to extreme weather. Many diverse farming operations already implement such practices, and requiring large industrialized operations to adopt these methods in order to claim premium subsidies would reduce their contribution to extreme weather events.

Farm Action’s Vision for Fairer Farm Support Programs

In our Fair Farm Bill Policy Handbook, Farm Action lays out recommendations to create a more competitive and inclusive agricultural system in 2023 and beyond. We need more support for diversified farm operations that contribute to healthy soils, a healthy environment, and healthy communities.

In line with the GAO’s recommendation, Farm Action supports requiring farmers to meet certain conservation standards, such as cover cropping, in order to participate in farm support programs. Since these payment programs exist to help protect farmers from the effects of extreme weather, operations should demonstrate that their farming practices are part of the solution, not the problem, in order to collect payments.

We must also expand crop insurance options to support more diversified and regenerative operations that feed their communities, not just those that grow commodities used for corporate livestock feed. About one-third of corn and 70 percent of U.S.-produced soybeans go to animal feed. In 2019, taxpayers spent $2.75 billion on corn and $1.33 billion on soybean commodity payments — meaning taxpayers gave industrial agriculture $1.8 billion toward feed to support their abusive industrialized approach to livestock management.

We also must set common-sense payment limits on farm support programs so that the largest farms aren’t receiving the bulk of taxpayer support and perpetuating the cycle of consolidation. For nearly four consecutive decades, the same 20,000 farmers have received farm support program payments at an average of nearly $1 million per recipient per year. Taxpayers shouldn’t be endlessly subsidizing the biggest and wealthiest farms.

Farm Action also supports making the Pandemic Cover Crop Program (PCCP) a permanently funded program with increased cost reductions per acre. This program currently offers growers reduced crop insurance rates at $5 for every acre planted in cover crops.

Join the Fight Today!

The farm bill is our opportunity to change our farm support programs in order to create a food system that works for everyone, not just large, industrialized operations. Farm bill negotiations are ramping up — send our Fair Farm Bill Policy Handbook to your legislators today!

Written and edited by: Jessica Cusworth and Dee Laninga; concept developed by Angela Huffman and Joe Maxwell

The post Crop Insurance: How the Big Farms Get Bigger first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Farm Action Kicks Off Food Not Feed Movement With D.C. Summit

Thu, 02/16/2023 - 06:47
We Want Food, Not Feed!

Our food system should work for everyone, not just a handful of multinational corporations — and voters agree. Recent polling on behalf of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future in collaboration with Farm Action shows overwhelming bipartisan support for shifting our federal farm funding to prioritize food for people over feed for corporate-controlled livestock.

Farm bill after farm bill has prioritized feeding industrial poultry and livestock all over the world over putting food on our neighbors’ tables — robbing farmers of opportunities and funneling profits toward global grain and meatpacking corporations. This doesn’t come as a surprise, as we’ve been responding to Big Ag’s playbook each farm bill cycle. It’s time for us to have our own playbook and make them respond to us through the Food Not Feed movement.

Food Not Feed Summit

The movement kicked off last week as Farm Action and a powerful coalition of farmers, ranchers, health, environmental, social justice, faith, labor, and animal advocates hosted the Food Not Feed Summit in Washington, D.C. to demonstrate the need and momentum to fundamentally change America’s agriculture policies.

It was an historic event where hundreds gathered with a shared goal of establishing an agenda to shift federal farm programs toward fiber-rich foods and regeneratively raised livestock and poultry within a system that’s fair and equitable from seed to fork.

Dispelling Big Ag’s Big Myths

First, our speakers busted the myths that Big Ag uses each farm bill cycle to maintain the status quo. Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group addressed the myth that we need Big Ag to feed the world: “Do we really feed the world? The short answer is no…most of what we do grow is used for feed grains for animals, not food for people.” The truth is, we’re not even feeding ourselves. The U.S. has racked up a trade deficit due to our dependence on produce imports, and Americans are more vulnerable than ever to the whims of foreign governments and global trade.

Our next speaker, Dr. Zach Bush of Farmer’s Footprint, addressed the myths that industrial agriculture is climate-smart and safe for our health. We’ve depleted 97% of carbon from Earth’s soils by relying so heavily on farm inputs like synthetic fertilizer to grow crops on a massive scale, which has disrupted the soil’s microbiology and weakened plants’ immune systems. Big Ag’s solution is adding more inputs like pesticides and herbicides. 

Bush continued, “the soils within our farming system ultimately are the foundation for which we build the soils within our gut. As we consumed more and more herbicides and pesticides through food and water, we denuded our own soils within our bodies and we’ve uncovered the great human pandemic of chronic disease.” We must understand that we can’t keep relying on the synthetic bandaids that got us into this crisis to get us out of it: “So here we find ourselves at a moment of collapse…it’s time to move to a holistic approach to understanding the vitality of life on earth.”

In his impassioned speech, U.S. Senator Cory Booker compared the Food Not Feed Summit to 19th-century suffrage gatherings: “This is a room that reminds me of gatherings like Seneca Falls,” referring to the first women’s rights convention in 1848. “We’re all part of a broken system that’s hurting everyone from farmers to farmworkers, from families and consumers,” he said. This system was not inevitable — it’s in place because of intentional policy choices, many of them made just in the past several decades. These policies can, and must, change.

The Senator outlined the policy changes necessary for realigning our farm programs to create a healthy food system and improve public health.

In Their Own Words: Farmers Feeding America

Next, Kara Shannon of ASPCA moderated a panel with farmers discussing how they’re breaking away from industrial agriculture’s grip and doing things differently. Panelist Tanner Faaborg of 1100 Farmstead and The Transfarmation Project described how “the tide has been shifting the wrong way in the last 30 years — everyone is growing commodity crops and putting up CAFOs. When everyone does it this way, getting out feels like a crazy idea, but change is possible.” Sherri Dugger of Socially Responsible Agriculture Project added that “we know most small farmers are exploited by this system.” She discussed the organization’s Contract Grower Transition Program, which supports contract growers hoping to exit the industry and provides resources to prevent others from becoming trapped in this system. Samantha Gasson from Bull City Farm and Food Animal Concerns Trust explained that we must expand the resources available to farmers trying to break away from industrial agriculture’s grip: “We should focus more on the testing that smaller farmers need — instead of just supporting factory farms, bring in the small farmers and give them the services they need.”

Lena Brook of NRDC moderated the next panel discussion among farmers who are successfully growing and raising food for their communities. These farmers shared what support would allow more farmers to live this story. Mike Callicrate of Ranch Foods Direct explained that “we need to facilitate a direct market between the farmer and consumer as much as possible, with as much of the consumer dollar flowing back to the farmer as possible.” Donna Pearson McClish of Common Ground Producers and Growers added that “food has to be a policy issue, not a profit issue…when we have healthy food, we have healthy families.” 

Next on the panel, Phillip Barker from Operation Spring Plant explained that we need “more money going into programs to bring in the next generation of Black farmers,” and emphasized the importance of making sure Black farmers have the opportunity to be part of the 2023 Farm Bill discussions. Bryn Bird of Bird’s Haven Farms pointed out that “Americans haven’t seen the true cost of food…we hide it through these subsidies.” She added that “farmers don’t want a handout, we want a hand up — we need massive investments into regional food systems.”

Previous Next Food Not Feed Policy in Action

Alison Grantham of Grow Well Consulting discussed farm sector economics and the path to profitability that would be opened if our policies supported farmers growing healthy food for their neighbors. “The policies we have in place have encouraged caloric productivity at all costs, and they skew our land allocation tremendously toward livestock feed instead of food, leading to the scourge of diet-related diseases we see today,” she explained. 

Of the 320 million acres of harvested cropland in the U.S., nearly half of it is used just for growing corn and soybeans — and under 5% is used for growing specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. We have plenty of space to shift specialty crop production so we don’t have to import half of them, but we must shift our farm support programs to make that change: “We can do big things with government spending, but the way we have been spending it isn’t to change the farm sector, it’s to uphold the status quo.”

Farm Action’s Joe Maxwell and Jake Davis of Local Root Strategies rounded out the Summit by explaining the policy changes and actions we need to shift to Food Not Feed. Joe asked everyone in the room and those online to kick off the Food Not Feed movement by calling their members of Congress and asking that they prioritize feeding people, not just industrial livestock and poultry in the 2023 Farm Bill.

To end the in-person experience of the Food Not Feed Summit, Kristen Grimm of Spitfire Strategies brought the participants in the room together to continue to create momentum and connect on a deeper level surrounding this work and the actions they can take going forward.

Previous Next Advocacy on the Hill

The Summit’s in-person attendees then took our critical message to more than 100 members of Congress across the ideological spectrum — including Agriculture Committee staff in both chambers of Congress — as well as staff at the USDA, DOJ, and the White House to ensure that those responsible for creating and managing our farm support programs understand the importance of prioritizing food, not feed in the upcoming farm bill. Below is a glimpse at what this would look like. Check out Farm Action’s Fair Farm Bill campaign page to see our complete agenda for the 2023 and 2028 farm bills.

  • A shift in government support from feed grains for industrial livestock production toward vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, mushrooms, and cereal grains, allowing farmers more choices to profitably grow food for their communities.
  • Increased financial and technical resources for farmers transitioning away from industrial agriculture and toward conservation and regenerative practices, including moving livestock and poultry out of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and back onto the land. Over time, a more environmentally-friendly agriculture system would be more resilient and less costly for taxpayers.
  • Requirements in the Farm Bill for farmers to implement certain conservation practices in order to participate in federal crop insurance, commodity/price support, and disaster payment programs.
Getting Results

Two days after the Summit, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow announced that she will focus on expanding crop insurance options beyond feed grains — toward fruits, vegetables, and more — during the upcoming farm bill debate. The following Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy emphasized the importance of the farm bill to fruit, vegetables, and nut crops. He added, “if we are not growing food in America, then we become more dependent on China, Mexico, and other nations for our food.” Rounding out the post-Summit week, the Government Accountability Office recommended tying conservation practices to crop insurance or commodity payments, another one of our direct asks.

Keep The Momentum Going
  • Call your members of Congress: Visit and call your representative and senators today. Here is a script to guide you:

    I am (your name). I am joining the Food Not Feed movement along with hundreds of other folks from around the country.

    We are all calling our members of Congress because we know that over the next several months they will be debating and drafting the next farm bill where our country’s food and agriculture policies are developed.

    I am asking that in every conversation and in every vote you prioritize feeding the people and not just growing feed for industrial livestock and poultry.

    Please create a Farm Bill that supports Food Not Feed. Thank you.

  • Not a fan of phone calls? Send our Farm Bill Handbook to your elected officials instead!
  • Keep the buzz going on social media: Share why you are for Food Not Feed and what it means to your livelihood and your community. Use the  #FoodNotFeed hashtag to join the conversation.


Missed the Summit? Check out the replay below.

Written and edited by: Jessica Cusworth, Dee Laninga, and Angela Huffman

The post Farm Action Kicks Off Food Not Feed Movement With D.C. Summit first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

The Hagstrom Report | Food Not Feed Summit held in Washington

Thu, 02/09/2023 - 11:26

Reposted from:

Farm Action and a coalition of organizations representing agriculture, health, faith, academia, conservation, labor, and animal welfare co-hosted the Food Not Feed Summit on Tuesday in Washington.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., was the most prominent speaker, but there were other speakers and panels that provided critiques of U.S. agricultural policy and proposed fundamentally changing the direction of agricultural policy through the 2023 farm bill.

(Jerry Hagstrom / The Hagstrom Report photos)

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., addresses the Food Not Feed Summit. 

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., poses with his aide, Adam Zipkin, who has worked with him on agricultural policy since Booker was mayor of Newark.

Angela Huffman, an Ohioan who is vice president of Farm Action, greets attendees at the Food Not Feed Summit at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, Washington.

Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group says that American farmers do not really feed the world because the United States grows only a small percentage of the world’s staple crops, most corn and soybeans go for feed and fuel and exports go to rich countries while the country imports an increasing percentage of fruits and vegetables.

From left, Mike Callicrate of Ranch Foods Direct in Colorado and Kansas, Phillip Barker of Operation Spring Plant in North Carolina, Donna Pearson McClish of Common Ground Producers and Growers in Wichita, Kan., and Bryn Bird of Bird’s Haven Farms in Ohio discuss “Successful Farms Feeding their Neighbors” with moderator Lena Brook of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

From left, Samantha Gasson of Bull City Farm and the Food Animal Concerns Trust in Durham, N.C., Tanner Faaborg of the 1100 Farmstead and the Transformation Project in Iowa and Sherri Dugger of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project in Delaware discuss “The Industrial Agricultural Treadmill” with moderator Kara Shannon of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Alison Grantham of Growing Well Consulting, a New Jersey concern, explains the history of U.S. agricultural production and notes that immigration is an important issue in fruit and vegetable production.

Jake Davis of Local Roots Strategies tells summit attendees that when they go to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress they will have to compete with “a lot of folks walking the halls to preserve the status quo.”

Joe Maxwell, a Missouri farmer and president of Farm Action, thanks the service workers at the hotel and the rest of Washington and says, “It is a new day dawning. We will be at the table as this farm bill is debated and negotiated.”

Attendees at the Food Not Feed Summit listen to the speakers.

The post The Hagstrom Report | Food Not Feed Summit held in Washington first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Farmers and Advocates Hold “Food Not Feed Summit” to Raise Awareness for Fairer Farm Bill

Tue, 02/07/2023 - 13:56

Ahead of tonight’s State of the Union address, Farm Action and a first-of-its-kind coalition of organizations representing agriculture, health, faith, academia, conservation, labor, and animal welfare co-hosted the Food Not Feed Summit in Washington, D.C., with participants across the country joining virtually. The Summit brought together a first-of-its-kind coalition of diverse perspectives to demonstrate the need and momentum to fundamentally change America’s agriculture policies ahead of 2023 Farm Bill negotiations.

“Food deserts in New Jersey and farmers in the Midwest are part of the same broken system that’s hurting everyone from farmers and farm workers to families and consumers,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who spoke at the Summit. “Many of the subsidies in the farm bill were created to support commodity crops and not the fruits and vegetables that families need. What the government is telling us is incongruent with American policy and farm subsidies. This is not a partisan issue, it’s an American issue.” 

Senator Booker continued, “I have sat down with people from all backgrounds and when you explain to people the incongruence of having a farm bill that subsidizes all of this and nutritionists that tell us we should be eating something different they get it right away.”

Quotes from the full coalition of Food Not Feed Summit co-hosts can be found here

For years, deep-pocketed multinational corporations have spent millions lobbying for incentives that push farmers to grow feed for livestock across the world, leaving too many of us hungry, sick, and without access to the fruits and vegetables that our government recommends. The Food Not Feed Summit begins a year of advocacy around a shift in government policies to instead empower farmers to grow and raise healthy, nutritious food that can feed our local communities, including fruits, vegetables, and regeneratively-raised livestock.

“Past farm bills have been designed around subsidizing big corporations, feeding big corporations’ farm production on massive and large industrial scale, and essentially wiping out our local and regional food system that we had 50 years ago,” said Mike Callicrate, owner of Ranch Foods Direct, who spoke at the Summit. “Now it’s time to rebuild our local and regional food systems that feed us more sustainably. Next farm bill, let’s produce food, not feed for corporate profits.”

Last week, ahead of the Summit, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) released polling showing that 84% of voters support policy proposals that would incentivize farmers and ranchers to implement sustainable and resilient agricultural practices, and 78% want American agriculture policy to prioritize healthy and sustainable food for humans over feed for industrially produced livestock.

Events following the Summit included a screening of the film The Smell of Money the evening of February 7, and meetings with members of Congress on Capitol Hill on February 7 and 8.

Ahead of the State of the Union address, attendees also called on President Biden to prioritize a farm bill that works for farmers and consumers in the coming year.

Photos from the event are available for use here.

Media Contact: Dee Laninga,, 202-450-0094

The post Farmers and Advocates Hold “Food Not Feed Summit” to Raise Awareness for Fairer Farm Bill first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

New Polling Shows Widespread Support for Prioritizing Sustainability and Growing Healthy Foods in 2023 Farm Bill

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 11:54

A new poll released today conducted by GQR on behalf of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future’s (CLF) Food Citizen Project in collaboration with Farm Action shows overwhelming, bipartisan support from voters for Congress to prioritize sustainable agriculture and growing healthier foods in the 2023 Farm Bill.

With Farm Bill negotiations heating up, President Biden’s State of the Union address and the Food Not Feed Summit next week, the release of this poll is timely: 88 percent of voters want Congress to make it a high priority to produce food in a sustainable way and to make healthy foods more available to all Americans.

The poll also found that 84% of voters support policy proposals that would incentivize farmers and ranchers to implement sustainable and resilient agricultural practices, and 78% want American agriculture policy to prioritize healthy and sustainable food for humans over feed for animals. 

 “Government policies have for too long stood in the way of farmers looking to grow and raise the healthy food they know their communities need, instead caving to multinational corporations and incentivizing the growth of feed grains to subsidize corporate livestock operations,” said Joe Maxwell, President and Co-Founder of Farm Action. “This poll shows that Americans across party lines want a better agricultural system that puts farmers in the best position to produce healthy food for their local communities.”

Mr. Maxwell continued, “In a polarized country, it’s rare to experience this level of bipartisan support, but Americans of all stripes have made it clear that supporting sustainable, local farming should be a priority for Congress and the President.”

In 2019, a paltry four percent of federal farm support dollars went toward the production of fruits and vegetables, as opposed to the 30 percent of federal farm support dollars that domestic meat, poultry, eggs, and animal feed received. This poll underscores the American public’s support for a massive shift in agriculture policy that better aligns with nutritional recommendations and American values.

The poll was conducted in collaboration with Farm Action, which next week is hosting the Food Not Feed Summit in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness around the 2023 Farm Bill and a number of the issues raised by the poll, including ensuring that the Farm Bill shifts incentive towards sustainable agriculture practices and incentives for farmers to produce healthy food for their local communities. The Summit includes prominent speakers including Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and will be bookended by visits to legislators on the Hill.

The poll was conducted through an online survey of 1000 nationally registered voters from Jan 12, 2023 – Jan 23, 2023. The data has been weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the registered voter population for the nation.

Media Contact: Dee Laninga,, 202-450-0094

The post New Polling Shows Widespread Support for Prioritizing Sustainability and Growing Healthy Foods in 2023 Farm Bill first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

The Hill | Americans Want Farm Subsidies to Go to Human Food, Not Animal Feed: Survey

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 04:37

Reposted from:

A new survey has found that 78 percent of Americans want federal farm funding to prioritize food for people over feed for livestock.

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and the farm advocacy group Farm Action published the bipartisan survey of 1000 people on Thursday. It represented the first time those groups asked explicitly about American crop subsidies — a form of federal aid overwhelmingly spent on growing crops to feed beef and dairy cattle, chickens and pigs. The survey is part of a broader campaign that seeks a general reversal in American food policy — with these subsidies being one of its most contentious issues.

It is part of Farm Action’s upcoming Food Not Feed Summit in Washington D.C., on Tuesday, which seeks to rally change around a proposal to make as much federal support available for fruits and vegetables as for feed grains.

“The United States is really in a crisis when it comes to food and agriculture,” Farm Action President Joe Maxwell told The Hill. Farm Action believes these subsidy programs support an unsustainable and unhealthy American diet and food system. 

Plant-based diets are widely acknowledged to reduce both climate disruption and chronic disease, according to Johns Hopkins.

But most federal subsidies don’t go to those foods. A report by Farm Action found that about 30 percent of American farm subsidies go to produce feed crops for dairy, eggs and meat. A further 12 percent goes to support the production of biofuels. Another 13 percent goes to food grains — like rice, corn and wheat — to feed people.  Only 4 percent go to fruits and vegetables.

A preliminary study by the Department of Agriculture-funded Nutrition Incentive Hub found that people were most likely to buy and eat fruits and vegetables when they were subsidized.

By contrast, existing subsidy programs push farmers to overproduce fattening feed grains like corn and soy — giving companies that handle livestock, like JBS, Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride, “access to grain at below the cost of production,” Maxwell said.

Farm Action sees the subsidies as part of a broader and more worrying trend. The advocacy group sees a national farm system that is losing the ability to produce its own healthy food.  “The narrative in Washington, D.C., continues to be about how we’re going to feed the world,” Maxwell added. “The truth is, we don’t feed ourselves.”

Maxwell pointed to Americans’ growing dependence on imported crops — something he believes is a direct result of government funding priorities. By 2020, the U.S. was on track to import more food than it exported for the first time since the 1950s, according to the University of Kentucky.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expects this winter’s imports to surpass exports by 4 percent. A big part of that trade imbalance comes from the U.S. importing more of the “table crops” filling supermarket produce sections.

Fruits, nuts and vegetables accounted for more than half of agricultural imports, the USDA’s Economic Research Service found.

More significantly, table crops are becoming an ever-larger share of imports.  Government researchers noted that two-thirds of the rise in agricultural imports could be accounted for by the rising U.S. imports of produce from berries to avocados. The Economic Research Service noted that some element of this shift comes from a rising customer preference for crops that out of season in the U.S.

This divide is even more dramatic in federal conservation programs. The USDA spends nearly 2 billion yearly on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. But by law, half of those funds must go to grazing, manure management and other purposes exclusive to animal agriculture.

Maxwell stressed that the group isn’t proposing that “we abandon every corn farmer or soybean farmer — I happen to be one,” Maxwell said. But they want to see fruits and vegetables given at least as much support as feed grains. Doing so “would help feed our country, balance our trade and give us healthier people,” Maxwell said.

The post The Hill | Americans Want Farm Subsidies to Go to Human Food, Not Animal Feed: Survey first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Cracking Down on Egg Industry’s Excuses: It’s Price Gouging

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 13:54

Countless news outlets are abuzz with news of sky-high egg prices — but they’re burying the lede: Egg companies have somehow managed to rake in record profits while bellyaching about avian flu and inflation.

Let’s take a look at Cal-Maine Foods, the largest producer and distributor of eggs in the United States. The company increased its gross profit margins five-fold after drastically raising the price of its eggs. If avian flu and inflation are so heavily impacting egg supply and production costs, why are Cal-Maine’s profits skyrocketing? It’s time to unravel the egg industry’s scheme.

Egg Prices Are Soaring

After enduring a year of crushing inflation rates, consumers are still getting squeezed everywhere they turn. Americans faced a nearly 12 percent increase in grocery prices over the last year, but shocking egg prices have captured the nation’s attention in recent weeks. The average cost of a carton of eggs has increased by 138 percent up to $4.25 a dozen — more than double the price from this time last year.

The Excuses

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the abusive corporations controlling our food system, it’s that they love a good “market disruptor” to justify swindling money from consumers and farmers to line shareholders’ pockets. While consumers have become increasingly cash-strapped since the pandemic, corporations have enjoyed their most profitable two years since 1950 as their profits jumped 35 percent.

Take for example the fire at Tyson’s Holcomb, Kansas meatpacking plant, which served as an excuse for beef packers to raise retail prices and cut the price paid to cattle producers — even though more cattle were processed in the weeks following the fire than before it. Or we can look to the fertilizer industry, which used excuses like shortages to hike up their prices. All the while, their own financial reports revealed they had additional capacity they were not utilizing.

The egg industry blames avian flu and inflation for increasing egg prices. These problems are certainly real — about 43 million egg-laying hens were lost due to the avian flu through December 2022, and input costs for producers have increased. But this begs the question — how are egg companies raking in so much money in light of these costly strains?

The Math Doesn’t Add up

Cal-Maine’s net average selling price for a dozen conventional eggs increased by 150.5 percent from a year ago. But the excuses for this price hike don’t stand up to the facts.

The USDA’s reporting refutes the egg industry’s narrative that the avian flu significantly decreased egg supply in the months following outbreaks. The average size of egg-laying flocks never dropped more than six to eight percent lower than it was a year prior. Moreover, the effect of the loss of egg-laying hens on production was itself blunted by “record-high” lay rates throughout the year, which increased by one to four percent. And there’s one other critical piece missing from this industry narrative — Cal-Maine, which controls 20 percent of the egg market, hasn’t reported a single case of avian flu at any of its facilities. 

The lack of price competition from rival egg companies during this time adds further questions about current market dynamics within the egg industry. The USDA expected these market conditions would lead to increased egg production as rival egg companies would step in to capture some of that market share — but by December 2022, it was clear that it never materialized. When market dynamics don’t work as they’re expected to, it’s indicative of possible collusion between companies to keep prices high.

The egg industry has also deployed the reliable “inflation” excuse from its toolbox to justify its price hikes. Feed and fuel costs have indeed increased. Yet Cal-Maine’s own documents indicate that increased production costs did not justify their excessive increase in the price of eggs. In a presentation to investors just this month, Cal-Maine noted that total farm production and feed costs in 2022 were only 22 percent higher than they were in 2021.

Farm Action’s letter calling for an investigation into potential price gouging was featured on the Today Show.

Passing the Cost on to Consumers – and Then Some

The egg industry appears to be exaggerating the impact of avian flu and inflation to justify their price hikes, all so they can quietly (or so they hoped) boost their profits. Let’s call this what it is: price gouging. It’s time to investigate the egg industry and dispel its narratives.

Farm Action, in support of the Biden Administration’s “whole of government approach” to antitrust enforcement, is calling on the FTC, DOJ, and USDA to coordinate their efforts to investigate and hold accountable any major egg companies engaging in price gouging or other deceptive practices. We are also encouraging state attorneys general to take action to protect their consumers against these abusive companies.

We’re fighting back against the industry’s narratives in the mainstream media to ensure greedy egg corporations can’t get away with taking advantage of consumers. Thanks to the coverage that our letter to the FTC generated on thousands of news outlets — including the Today Show, Reuters, Time, Fox Business, Vice, Yahoo Finance, CNBC, The Hill, AP, The Guardian, and CNN — these companies’ record profits and excuses are being exposed.

The American people shouldn’t be on the hook for padding the egg industry’s wallets. This isn’t over until somebody investigates.

Written and edited by: Jessica Cusworth, Dee Laninga, Angela Huffman, Joe Maxwell, and Basel Musharbash

The post Cracking Down on Egg Industry’s Excuses: It’s Price Gouging first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

TIME | Your Egg Prices Could Be So High Because of Price Gouging, Farm Group Says

Fri, 01/20/2023 - 07:55

Reposted from:

The price of eggs has skyrocketed in recent months, up 138% year-over-year last month. A dozen eggs now averages about $4.25, due in part to avian flu, which is tearing through poultry farms across the U.S.—wiping out some 58 million birds in the last year.

But there’s another culprit, says a farm advocacy group: price gouging. America’s largest egg producer saw a 600% jump in profits in the last quarter alone.

Farm Action, a nonprofit that campaigns against corporate influence in the farm industry, alleged in a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan on Thursday that Mississippi-based Cal-Maine Foods is engaging in “apparent price gouging, price coordination, and other unfair or deceptive acts or practices” as Americans pay more than ever for the staple ingredient.

Farm Action claims the “real culprit” behind the massive price increases is “a collusive scheme among industry leaders to turn inflationary conditions and an avian flu outbreak into an opportunity to extract egregious profits.”

Cal-Maine Foods, which controls 20% of the retail egg market, reported quarterly sales up 110% and gross profits up more than 600% over the same quarter in the prior fiscal year, according to a December filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The company pointed to decreased egg supply nationwide due to avian flu as the reason for higher prices and record sales. Cal-Maine brands include Egg-Land’s Best, Farmhouse Eggs, and Land O’ Lakes eggs.

The company has had no positive avian flu tests on any of its farms, according to its quarterly report. Cal-Maine did not respond to a request for comment.

“Avian flu is not manufactured—it’s real,” says Joe Maxwell, the co-founder of Farm Action. “But the dominant firms are using that supply chain disruption to gouge the consumers. The numbers in our letter clearly indicate that the production loss due to avian flu was minor compared to the prices being charged.”

At the heart of America’s rising egg prices is a tightening supply of eggs due to avian flu. Commercial poultry farms impacted by the disease have to euthanize all birds and rebuild their flocks, meaning they can be out of commission for months.

“This is the largest animal emergency that USDA has ever faced in this country,” says Gino Lorenzoni, an assistant professor of poultry science and avian health at Penn State University. “And it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon.”

Regulators and industry groups have long argued over whether corporations should have the power to set prices and drive up the cost of groceries, especially during times of crisis.

There is no federal law outlawing price gouging, though the FTC does have the power to prevent “unfair or deceptive acts of practices” as the nation’s top consumer protection enforcer. The agency has been historically reticent to employ the full extent of its authority under that provision, but Farm Action believes there’s a good chance regulators will investigate.

“The FTC has broader authority as it relates to deceptive practices,” Maxwell says. “The Chair spoke directly to these types of issues publicly saying it was something that the FTC intends on taking greater active enforcement on so we felt that opened the door to present this case to the Chair and the FTC.”

Khan has previously argued that enforcers should seek to challenge monopoly power in markets “with highly inelastic demand” that “imposes substantial costs on the public,” according to Farm Action.

Overall, U.S. egg inventory was down 29% in December compared to the beginning of the year, largely because the dominant egg producers chose not to increase production despite “favorable conditions,” says Basel Musharbash, a lawyer for Farm Action.

“Could there be a perfectly innocuous explanation for all of this?” Musharbash says. “Sure. But it does suggest that there is something worth investigating here and looking into how the industry seemed to calibrate its production decisions across competitors in order to induce and maintain these extremely high prices over the entire year.”

The post TIME | Your Egg Prices Could Be So High Because of Price Gouging, Farm Group Says first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Farm Action Calls for FTC to Investigate Record-High Egg Prices

Thu, 01/19/2023 - 08:18

In response to record-high egg prices and just before testifying at an open meeting of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), today Farm Action sent a letter urging the FTC “to promptly open an investigation into the egg industry, prosecute any violations of the antitrust laws it finds within, and ultimately, get the American people their money back.” 

Farm Action’s letter lays out the economic basis for its “concerns over apparent price gouging, price coordination, and other unfair or deceptive acts or practices by dominant producers of eggs,” including market giant and industry “bellwether” Cal-Maine Foods. 

Examining publicly-available financial data from the egg industry, the letter determines that the supply disruption caused by the avian flu outbreak had an “apparently mild impact on the industry,” as the average size of the egg-laying flock in any given month of 2022 was never more than six percent lower than it was a year prior.” 

Still, “weekly wholesale price for shell eggs climbed from 173.5 cents per dozen at the end of February to 194.2 cents in the middle of March. By the first week of April, it had reached 298 cents per dozen.” Including the avian flu outbreak, the letter states that nothing “justifies the dominant egg producers’ more than three-fold price hike.” 

“For the 26-week period ending on November 26, 2022, Cal-Maine reported a ten-fold year-over-year increase in gross profits — from $50.392 million to $535.339 million — and a five-fold increase in its gross margins,” the letter states. 

Instead, the letter concludes that “the real culprit behind this 138 percent hike in the price of a carton of eggs appears to be a collusive scheme among industry leaders to turn inflationary conditions and an avian flu outbreak into an opportunity to extract egregious profits reaching as high as 40 percent.”

“In the end, what Cal-Maine Foods and the other large egg producers did last year — and seem to be intent on doing again this year — is extort billions of dollars from the pockets of ordinary Americans through what amounts to a tax on a staple we all need: eggs,” the letter states. “They did so without any legitimate business justification. They did so because there is no “reasonable substitute” for a carton of eggs. They did so because they had power and weren’t afraid to use it.”

The letter asserts that it is time for action, and that the FTC has all necessary authority. “We urge the FTC to exercise the full scope of its authorities — under the Sherman, Clayton, and FTC Acts — to identify, challenge, and uproot anti-competitive arrangements that suppress competition among egg producers,” the letter states. 

On the heels of this letter, Farm Action is circulating a citizen petition encouraging the FTC to investigate anticompetitive activity in the egg industry.

Media Contact: Dee Laninga,, 202-450-0094

The post Farm Action Calls for FTC to Investigate Record-High Egg Prices first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Farm Action Urges USDA to Hold Monopolies Accountable for Discrimination and Retaliation with Proposed Packers and Stockyards Act Rule

Tue, 01/17/2023 - 14:31

Today Farm Action submitted a public comment in response to a proposal (“Proposed Rule”) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). By modernizing certain producer protections under the Packers and Stockyards Act (“P&S Act”), the Proposed Rule would promote competition in the livestock, meats, poultry, and live poultry markets. 

“Farm Action is encouraged by AMS’s continuing efforts to strengthen antitrust enforcement across our food system by reinvigorating the Packers and Stockyards Act,” the comment states. The Proposed Rule would significantly improve AMS’s ability to hold poultry integrators and meatpackers accountable for their widespread discriminatory and retaliatory conduct towards growers and producers.

Farm Action’s comment went on to make specific recommendations for the Proposed Rule to help AMS more effectively accomplish its goals. Farm Action believes the rule could be strengthened by:

  • Specifically prohibiting discrimination based on protected class status.
  • Clarifying that producers in monopsonistic markets qualify for market vulnerable status.
  • Developing clear procedures for identifying additional groups that should be considered market vulnerable.
  • Requiring that covered packers maintain necessary records to allow AMS to adequately enforce the Proposed Rule.
  • Ensuring that the burden of proof for complainants allows protected producers to effectively bring cases against covered packers that engage in discriminatory or retaliatory conduct.
  • Identifying specific practices that foster deception and abuse in these markets and ensure that protections under the P&S Act are broadly applied.
  • Clarifying the important role litigation plays in effective enforcement of the P&S Act in the agency’s cost-benefit analysis.

This Proposed Rule marks the second of three rulemakings USDA announced in June, 2021 as part of their plan to strengthen the landmark P&S Act and reinvigorate antitrust enforcement. Farm Action submitted comments on the first rule, which focused on the contract poultry growing industry, in August of 2022, and looks forward to reviewing the third rule when it is announced. 

Media Contact: Dee Laninga,, 202-450-0094

The post Farm Action Urges USDA to Hold Monopolies Accountable for Discrimination and Retaliation with Proposed Packers and Stockyards Act Rule first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

The American Prospect | John Deere Says Farmers Can Fix Their Own Tractors—Sometimes

Thu, 01/12/2023 - 12:55

Reposted from:

This week, the tractor giant John Deere agreed to a memorandum of understanding with the American Farm Bureau Federation to abide by certain “right to repair” guarantees for farmers. Despite these concessions, many right to repair advocates see the memorandum as little more than a sleight of hand to quell the momentum behind state and federal legislation.

The right to repair movement has grown over the past decade by championing a clear-cut principle: People should be able to fix their consumer items on their own or through independent dealers. In the consumer electronics market, however, corporate giants such as Apple or John Deere effectively force customers to go to the company’s own dealers, where costs are often so high that it’s cheaper just to buy a new product. Such firms make outside repairs all but impossible by blocking consumers’ access to the necessary mechanical parts as well as to manuals or schematics.

In the case of agricultural equipment, companies like John Deere have even threatened legal action against farmers who try to fix their own tractors, on the grounds of copyright infringement. This arrangement essentially imposes a semipermanent leasing agreement onto farmers that not only adds another overhead cost but sometimes can have dire consequences. If a tractor malfunctions or the battery needs to be replaced, it can take up to two weeks for farmers to get a John Deere technician to attend to the repair. During the height of a harvest season, that could mean losing a significant amount of a farmer’s earnings for the year.

The right to repair movement has the ear of the White House. President Biden’s competition order in 2021 directed the Federal Trade Commission to take action on this practice. While the Commission hasn’t set rules yet, it issued a policy statement in 2021 and approved final orders in October against three firms for imposing unlawful obstacles on repairs.

Though light on details, Deere’s new memorandum would make it somewhat easier for farmers to get repair service independent from the company. It would ease restrictions on machine parts from manufacturers and open up other fix-it tools, such as the software or handbooks that Deere technicians rely on.

This olive branch, however, is predicated on a major concession from the Farm Bureau, one of the most powerful lobbying forces in agriculture that advocates on behalf of farmers. The Farm Bureau has agreed not to support any state-level legislation that enshrines the right to repair in law, or creates further protections that go beyond what’s outlined in the agreement.

“That provision shows the company’s cards and makes us wary of the agreement,” said Willie Cade, an organizer for Farm Action and a right to repair advocate. “It seems targeted at taking the wind out of our sails.”

For the movement’s stalwarts, the timing of the memorandum is not a coincidence. Last month, New York state passed the first major piece of legislation on right to repair for digital products. Despite industry-friendly carve-outs tucked into the final version by Gov. Hochul, the passage of that bill galvanized other states’ efforts on similar legislation, which has now been introduced in almost every state. Many state lawmakers hoped to move forward on those bills in the first months of the year, when most legislation gets done in statehouses.

It’s not uncommon for corporations to fall back on private-sector multiparty agreements in an attempt to stave off regulation. “John Deere is using the same playbook that we’ve seen from other companies with a monopolistic position,” said Daniel Hanley, a legal analyst at the Open Markets Institute whose work on the right to repair has been cited in federal legislation.

Big Tech in particular has pursued this strategy as antitrust enforcement bears down on them. Both Apple and Google have unveiled privacy reforms that in theory make it more difficult for third parties to track users without hindering their own data collection and ad revenue. In a precursor to the John Deere memorandum, Apple began opening company-run self-service repair shops to consumers, a move that hasn’t convinced any advocates to back off, since most iPhone parts aren’t readily available at the stores.

One major problem with private-sector accords is that there’s no enforcement mechanism. If John Deere doesn’t live up to the memorandum, farmers have no path for recourse.

Moreover, the Deere memorandum also contains loopholes. The core concession is to give customers access to a service adviser software tool for procuring mechanical parts from manufacturers similar to the one that company dealers get to use for repairs. But the company doesn’t provide other tools that right to repair advocates would like to see, such as dealer technical assistance service. The memo also permits Deere to maintain certain exceptions that would deny farmer repair requests. The company can refuse to distribute certain equipment to farmers if it deems the technology proprietary or when it falls under vague criteria such as “safety controls” or “emissions controls.”

“The slippery language gives the company enormous discretion to just set policy as it goes,” said Kevin O’Reilly, the director of the Right to Repair campaign at U.S. PIRG.

Beyond their discontent with these carve-outs, farmers and their advocates have little trust that Deere will actually follow through on its agreement—a skepticism rooted in the company’s track record. In 2018, Deere issued a “statement of principles” that foreshadowed the provisions in the new memorandum. Despite that, farmers never received access to the machine parts or software they’d been promised.

“We have a bit of déjà vu since we witnessed the same Kabuki theater take place in 2018,” said O’Reilly.

Neither John Deere nor the Farm Bureau could be reached for comment.

State lawmakers around the country have taken notice of the memorandum. In Iowa, newly elected state Rep. J.D. Scholten, who sits on the Agriculture Committee, plans to take up the cause of right to repair. The company’s reputation in the state has taken a hit since it moved the work done at its Waterloo manufacturing factory to Mexico just several months after a strike at the plant came to an end. Still, Scholten isn’t under any illusions about the political clout the company still wields in the state. “Even though Deere’s armor has been dented, I expect the memorandum might be used as an excuse by some not to take action,” said Scholten.

A similar dynamic could play out in Vermont, where right to repair legislation specifically for agriculture equipment has undergone a recent resurgence.

“We often see companies weaponize the private sector to avoid lawmaking,” said state Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, one of the sponsors of right to repair legislation from last session.

Kornheiser also emphasized, however, that the memorandum might have the reverse effect than the company intended, as it has now openly admitting that right to repair is a problem.

“We’re still hopeful that we can get it done,” said Kornheiser.

The post The American Prospect | John Deere Says Farmers Can Fix Their Own Tractors—Sometimes first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Farm Action’s Vision for the New Year and Beyond

Thu, 01/12/2023 - 10:14

After a banner year for Farm Action in 2022, we’re thrilled for the opportunities that lie ahead in 2023 and beyond to reform our food and farm system. While the 2023 and 2028 Farm Bills are in our bullseye, we also still have two years ahead to enact change during the remainder of President Biden’s term. We’ll continue holding the administration’s feet to the fire on anti-monopoly reform to ensure the agencies follow through on Biden’s executive order to revive antitrust enforcement and promote competition throughout the economy.

The Farm Bill: Farm Action’s Two-Cycle Vision

Changing the Narrative in 2023
We’re kicking off the new year with the Food Not Feed Summit, where Farm Action, alongside a powerful and diverse coalition, is headed to D.C. to call for a farm bill that better supports healthy foods for people, not just feed for industrial livestock. We’re making sure Congress understands how our current food system starves communities of access to nutritious food while trapping farmers in a system that denies them the opportunity to produce food for their neighbors. We need to fundamentally shift our agricultural system so that it works for farmers, ranchers, food system workers, and consumers — not just multinational corporations.

Changing the narrative on how we think and talk about our food system will continue beyond the Food Not Feed Summit. Recent news about our predicted agricultural trade deficit and Mexico’s proposed ban on importing genetically modified corn from the U.S. demonstrates how our current farm policies are not meeting the needs of our country’s consumers or farmers. Rather, they are structured to put more money in the pockets of Big Ag — but the headlines about these news items don’t reflect this side of the story. Instead, we’re told not to worry about our trade deficit and to blame other countries for harming our export market. We’ll continue pushing new narratives on these critical issues to expose our backward policies so we can enact meaningful change at the policy level.

Policy Goals for the 2023 Farm Bill
Farm Action’s key policy objective for the 2023 Farm Bill is to shift government farm programs to better support farmers in growing foods to support healthy diets and healthy soils. First, we’re calling for Food, Not Feed, to shift government subsidies from feed grains for industrial livestock production toward nutritious fruits and vegetables, allowing farmers to profitably grow healthy food for their communities. We also need increased financial and technical resources in the farm bill for farmers transitioning away from industrial agriculture and toward conservation and regenerative practices. To meet the growing challenges caused by extreme weather, the farm bill should require farmers to meet certain conservation standards in order to participate in federal crop insurance, commodity and price support, and disaster payment programs. You can read more about our 2023 Farm Bill objectives in our Fair Farm Bill Policy Handbook.

Farm Bill Goals in 2028
We’re already looking ahead to the 2028 Farm Bill, where we’ll focus on policies that support transformational and structural food and farm system change. These policies level the playing field for local and regional markets and independent producers so they have fair access to market opportunities. A critical step toward expanding market access for independent producers is creating a moratorium on large agribusiness, food and beverage manufacturing, and retail grocery mergers. We must also invest in land access for new and transitioning farmers to help build up local and regional markets, as land access continues to block new farmers from entering the market. Read more about our 2028 Farm Bill objectives in our Fair Farm Bill Policy Handbook.

Holding The Biden Administration’s Feet to the Fire

Since President Biden issued the Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy in July of 2021, we have and will continue to monitor the progress (or lack thereof) of the agencies charged with cracking down on anticompetitive behavior in the economy.

So far, we’re pleased that the DOJ banned the anticompetitive tournament system payment scheme for 15% of the poultry market, providing a clear opportunity for the USDA to ban the system for the remainder of the market. Encouragingly, the FTC restored its commitment to fully enforcing antitrust laws in addition to issuing a second request for information on the Kroger-Albertsons merger. We’ll continue advocating for the FTC to challenge this merger.

Farm Action will keep up the pressure on the Biden Administration to ensure the passage of more anti-monopoly reform during this administration’s remaining two years. We will continue calling on the USDA to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act and to crack down on fraudulent “Product of USA” labeling. We are still waiting on the FTC and DOJ to issue strong merger review guidelines, and we are eagerly awaiting the enactment of the FTC’s proposed noncompete rule to protect workers and promote competition. The USDA’s cattle contract library pilot is a small but welcome step toward improving price discovery and transparency, but it does not go far enough. We’ll call on the USDA and DOJ to work together to establish and enforce firm base prices in all livestock contracts.

Gearing Up for the Fight Ahead

This year’s farm bill is a critical step on our path to fundamentally change our food system to work for our farmers, consumers, and food system workers — but there are many steps that follow, and we’ve got a long fight ahead of us. With the help of supporters like you, we’re confident we can transform our food system to ensure it is fair, competitive, and accessible for all.

Written and edited by: Jessica Cusworth, Dee Laninga, and Sarah Carden; concept developed by Angela Huffman and Joe Maxwell

The post Farm Action’s Vision for the New Year and Beyond first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Farm Action Applauds FTC’s Proposed Rule to Ban Anticompetitive Noncompete Agreements

Thu, 01/05/2023 - 10:51

Farm Action applauds the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for issuing a proposed rule to prohibit employers from binding their workers with noncompete clauses. By accurately declaring that noncompetes are an unfair method of competition, the rule would force employers to withdraw existing agreements with their workers and prevent them from issuing new ones in the future. 

Farm Action has long advocated for such a rule, which removes a key mechanism of exploitation and corporate control over U.S. workers. 

“Noncompete clauses are essentially traps that enable corporations to hold workers hostage and entrench their monopsony power,” said Joseph Van Wye, Policy and Outreach Director for Farm Action. “Denied the freedom to seek other employment, workers are more vulnerable to the whims of their employers, subjecting them to low wages and unsafe working conditions. Today, FTC has made a bold stance of support for America’s workers — one we have sought for a long time.”

In sectors across the U.S. economy, one in five workers from all economic brackets — from fast food employees of McDonald’s to highly trained healthcare professionals — are constrained by noncompete agreements. The FTC states the benefits of this action include “[increased] wages by nearly $300 billion per year and [expanded] career opportunities for about 30 million Americans.” 

A ban on noncompetes was explicitly called for in President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, as it will make labor markets fairer and more competitive, as well as open up more opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Farm Action will engage with the FTC’s public comment period on the proposed rule.

Media Contact: Dee Laninga,, 202-450-0094

The post Farm Action Applauds FTC’s Proposed Rule to Ban Anticompetitive Noncompete Agreements first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology

Modern Farmer | Farmers Frustrated as Fertilizer Costs Soared in 2022

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 08:08

Reposted from:

Lance Lillibridge, a farmer in east central Iowa, knows farming’s ups and downs. He has been in this business since he was “knee-high to a grasshopper” and is the first of a family of farmers to own his land. But he said the sharp increase in fertilizer prices this year has put him in a challenging position.

“It’s very gut-wrenching,” he said. “It’s very difficult to be optimistic about the future because these prices are so high.”

This year’s drastic increase in fertilizer prices has hit farmers’ pockets, and many have opted to buy less fertilizer and look for other alternatives to nourish the soil.

However, fertilizer manufacturers have largely escaped unscathed: The high prices — which have soared past inflation — have cushioned their bottom lines from any decline in sales, according to financial reports.

This year, giant fertilizer companies hauled in hundreds of millions in net earnings. The rise in profits represents massive percentage increases since last year. One major producer’s earnings jumped more than 1,000% in the first nine months of 2022 than in the same time period last year.

Lillibridge’s 2,500-acre farm in Vinton, a town in Benton County, mostly grows corn, a crop that requires a lot of fertilizer compared to soybeans or wheat.

Although corn has sold at high prices over the last two years and grain is expected to remain high, Lillibridge said it’s “very frustrating as a farmer” right now. Farmers could be paying hundreds of thousands more for fertilizer, he said.

“It’s difficult to be able to pencil this out,” he said of planning the year ahead. “Right now, I can’t even get a price on fertilizer for spring. So how do I make any decisions?”

Fertilizer — which makes soil more productive — can be the difference between a good and bad harvest in many cases. Because of that, modern American row crops have become dependent on fertilizer, after generations of farming have degraded topsoil.

Runoff from fertilizer also can have disastrous downstream effects. It exacerbates the “dead zone” — an area where fish can no longer live — in the Gulf of Mexico, and it poisons drinking water.

Midwestern farmers spent nearly $4 out of every $10 of the cost of growing corn on fertilizer in 2021, according to the most recent data of the USDA’s Commodity Costs and Return. For soybeans, fertilizers account for less than $2 out of $10 of operating costs.

“The increase in fertilizer prices has probably been the number one issue” for farmers, said Nicholas Paulson, professor in agricultural economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Paulson said fertilizer use is significant for soybeans, but corn is more dependent on fertilizers — especially nitrogen fertilizer, one of the main types of fertilizer, along with phosphate and potassium.

Fertilizer prices have risen for the past two years but reached record highs last spring. Multiple factors have driven the increase.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (both countries are major producers), the subsequent economic sanctions and disruptions to Black Sea trade routes have further increased trade costs and uncertainty for Russian and Belarusian exports.

Prices for fertilizer have fallen since spring but remain high. While not as high as in the spring, fertilizer costs are significantly higher than a year ago and remain higher than in 2019.

This increase is considerably higher than for other prices across the economy. From the third quarter of 2019 to the same period this year, the average price of two of the most widely used types of fertilizer, diammonium phosphate (DAP) and potash, doubled in cost, according to an analysis of DTN/The Progressive Farmer fertilizer price data by Investigate Midwest. In contrast, overall inflation in that period was 20%.

But the most significant price increase over that same time period has been for anhydrous ammonia, an effective and widely used nitrogen fertilizer. The price of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer increased by 152%.

“This is not normal,” said Lillibridge, who also is a member of the board of directors for the Iowa Corn Growers Association. “In years past, we’ve had a pretty good idea what we could buy fertilizer for in the fall and what we could buy it for in the spring.”

He said that’s a burden for farmers because they have had to triple their fertilizer budget. If they had planned to invest $400,000, that means they now have to spend $1.2 million, he explained.

“I hear more of my farmer friends say, ‘I don’t even know why I do this anymore,’”  Lillibridge said.

 Frustrations with a concentrated market 

Multiple factors influence the price of fertilizers.

The price of natural gas, which is used in nitrogen-based fertilizers production, affects the cost, as do farmers’ returns. When farmers make more money, fertilizer companies charge more, agricultural economist Carl Zulauf said.

Higher grain prices — from corn to wheat to sunflower oil — have boosted farmers’ profits to nearly $161 billion this year, up 14% from the previous year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

“We as farmers feel very offended that just because corn prices went up, the fertilizer prices went up,” said Dennis Friest, Iowa Corn Growers Association president, attributing price increases to a concentrated fertilizer market made up of a few giant players. “They have total control over whatever price they charge.”

Two companies supply most of North America’s potash fertilizers, while four supply 75% of U.S. nitrogen fertilizers, according to a March 2022 U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

The report even warned of concentration: “These companies’ possession of scarce resources, often in other countries, and control over critical production, transportation, and distribution channels raises heightened risks relating to concentration and competition,” it read.

Nutrien, a Canadian company formed through the January 2018 merger between PotashCorp. and Agrium, and Mosaic, based in Florida, dominate the potassium fertilizer market.

Meanwhile, the major players operating in the nitrogen fertilizer market included CF Industries, an Illinois-based company; Nutrien; Mosaic; and the Norwegian chemical company Yara.

Wes Shoemyer, a former state senator in Missouri and a corn farmer who said the high prices made him find a biological alternative to fertilizer from a company named Pivot Bio, said he thinks the Biden administration should investigate the concentrated market.

“We have to enforce the antitrust rules,” he said. “We’re seeing this administration become more aggressive on many antitrust laws.”

 A year of cash flow for manufacturers

Although the rise in fertilizer prices has hurt farmers, it has led fertilizer manufacturers to record triple-digit profit increases for most of this year, according to reports that Mosaic and CF Industries filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Canadian company Nutrien publishes on its website.

For example, Mosaic’s net earnings totaled $842 million in the first nine months of 2022, representing an increase in profits of 217% over the same amount of time last year. A company’s net earnings indicate how much money it made in a given period after factoring in expenses, like operating costs.

Mosaic did not return requests for comment.

CF Industries and Nutrien also saw windfalls. CF Industries reported more than $2.49 billion over the first nine months of 2022 — a 1,075% bump compared to the same amount of time last year.

When asked about its earnings, a CF industries spokesperson pointed to a post on its website. The post said prices for nitrogen fertilizer, the company’s focus, are determined by high natural gas prices.

“European natural gas prices have hit record highs in early March 2022 due to the uncertainty created by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which is a major supplier of natural gas to Europe” the post reads in part. “This affects prices worldwide.”

Nutrien also pointed to a post on its website explaining key drivers of fertilizer costs, including natural gas prices. The company’s president and CEO, Ken Seitz, touted his company’s high earnings in a press release: “Nutrien has delivered record earnings in 2022 due to the strength of agriculture fundamentals, higher fertilizer prices and excellent retail performance.”

In their reports, the companies mentioned that high fertilizer prices have caused farmers to buy less fertilizer. However, this drop in sales does not affect their earnings growth.

“They make excuses for price gouging,” said Joe Maxwell, president of Farm Action and former Democratic lieutenant governor of Missouri. “They have blamed high natural gas prices. They blamed hurricanes in Louisiana and Florida, and they blamed COVID. … The truth is that they’re exhibiting monopolistic practices within the marketplace.”

The post Modern Farmer | Farmers Frustrated as Fertilizer Costs Soared in 2022 first appeared on Farm Action.
Categories: A3. Agroecology


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