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Rural America Is Reeling. What’s the Remedy?

Rural America Is Reeling. What’s the Remedy?

Niaz Dorry

The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing last week on “The State of the Rural Economy.” I’ve lived in a rural community for 25 years, working with rural fishing communities. For the last 11 years, I’ve served as the director of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA). In 2018, as part of an innovative shared leadership model between the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) and NAMA, I began working with rural farming communities as well.

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While having not studied this phenomenon purposefully, I have observed it in my travels on the backroads of the country. Until the one dollar-one vote curse that the nation has been saddled with is lifted, I don’t see much hope for reinvigorating rural life, as the wealth is concentrated in urban areas and moreover in market mechanisms well beyond what are rudimentarily required to move agricultural products around effectively. It is a crying shame, as technology–especially the internet–provides a type of connectivity for rural people that should empower them. Instead, with the likes of the right wingers, rural communities are cut from the herd of American life. All too often the left wingers (that’s often us, folks) pile on by ridiculing the rural mindset. Somehow a healing transcendence needs to occur so that the barriers to understanding all lifestyles are lowered. This would greatly help in the needed cooperation required to tackle issues such as global climate change.

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Much of rural america voted for Trump. I’m not sure what they were expecting, probably just misplaced hope in a criminal president and a GOP that hasn’t cared about them for years but to anyone looking, it was obvious that they were going to get screwed. Maybe they can now start to wake up to reality.

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We should not underestimate the homogenizing HYPNOTIC power of media. Words are a human technology that is, today, recognized in only two areas: academia (linguistics) and advertising/marketing. One of the finest examples and inspirations for the current generations as academic/activist is Noam Chomsky. He and countless others sparked by his clarity of observation and documentation, cut through the wiggly-fingered hypnosis of the increasingly malign counter-power: advertising and now the media servants to their owners/sponsors. Also since the rise of the computer, the corporate buying of academic research departments in universities for piddling price of rights to any and all marketable patents. Fun stuff, this once you get passed the terrorization factors.

The conversation is slowly being pulled out of the vice (gotta love that double entendre) grip by resilient and determined persons who ‘get the picture’ and how close this abusive system is to falling over the cliff into the abyss. The latter being loaded with mercenary drones prepping to catch whatever spoils it can.

Traditional agriculturalists are a treasure and will be either be recognized and supported or we lose some of the most valuable unsung heroes we benefit from, sometimes three or more times a day.

  • Buy a membership in a local co-op
  • buy as much local/regional product as you can
  • check and see if your state is exploring public banking
  • Book mark contact pages for your reps and prep to write a letter a week or day if necessary
  • All folks directly connected to the land are our ‘canaries in the coal mine’. That includes our native brothers and sisters ICToday, and IEN and for international info - Intercontinental Cry
  • Small scale farmers around the world supply 70% of the food on our tables. Agribusiness does other stuff

Please add ideas…

Lots of different ideas to engage
REGENERATION NATION

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“Wake up”? No, they’re as good as brain dead.Well, of course, I’m a little overly harsh, but in 2018, once again for the umpteenth time, my southern MN rural neighbors voted republican across the board with the exception of Klobuchar. And MN is a more progressive state than most. We don’t want no welfare (except for the farm bill!). We don’t want abortions. We do want the Apocalypse. We like things white as the driven snow. We want very low taxes. We don’t need no regulations. We can take care of everything on our own just fine. We don’t want our worthless neighbor getting free health care when I have to pay. That ain’t right. It’s communism or socialism–you name it. Trump is trying to give us real law and order while democrats obstruct. Here was the ending of a recent commentary in our local paper: MAGA Drain the swamp!

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I see the “reeling” in this post (not so different from poor urban neighborhoods, often without banks, groceries, sevices…) but I didn’t really see much “remedy.”

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Hold tight into near future, rural America: Climate catastrophe is going to raise prices dramatically.

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Voting Democrat would have made no difference in their lives. When campaigning Democrats all but ignored small communities and focused instead on the large cities where they get most of their support.

This plays out at the State level as well. Winning the larger population states always has priority over the small population States and policies announced so as to attract the vote tend to be directed towards State with larger populations.

This is also true here In Canada. The Political parties tend to focus more on the large urban centers. It an inevitable outcome of centralized power structures. The only way to really address it is not by voting Democrat over Republican or Liberal over Conservative , it reforming the system so more Political power exists at the local level.

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Not if Democratic politicians and their media pundits and comedians keep making fun of rural people and accuse all the white rural people of being deplorable, racist, misogynist, xenophobes.

Not if Democrats continue to promote pragmatists who want to continue to ship jobs overseas, wage war after war, and tell rural people their solution is to be innovative.

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From the time the first candidates were announced in 2015 it was apparent that 2016 would be the year of the outsider. GOP primaries resulted in a faux outsider while Democratic Party primaries resulted in a deep rooted insider candidate.

The 2016 election results were the result of a combination of gerrymandering, voter suppression and enough swing state voters preferring a faux outsider candidate over an insider.

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Starting in 2001, Democrats, even the rural populists, switched over to a Republican farm bill. Republicans ended minimum farm price floors in 1996 after lowering them for 43 years. That even includes the likes of Paul Wellstone, Tom Harkin, Dick Gephardt, Paul Simon and Tom Daschle. Prior to that they were all much better than any recent candidate, including Bernie Sanders, with the Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill, to end farm subsidies by restoring fair minimum price floor programs, (including supply management). The strategy has not worked, and Democrats are doing very poorly in rural areas. Trump provided an alternative to the Democrat/Republican Washington Concensus, against TPP and NAFTA. But that proved to be a farce. Progressives today are even worse, siding with agribusiness, (CAFO corps, junk food makers, and export dumpers,) against farmers. (Farmers are forced to subsidize all of the above by more than any taxpayer subsidies back to farmers.) NFFC offers a great farm bill to fix it, a continuation of Harkin-Gephardt.

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Progressives primarily need to learn what a farm bill really is. They think it’s just spending and subsidies, and the Democrats have been doing no better. Really the core of the farm bill is market management, with minimum price floors (and ceilings to protect consumers,) and supply management, with no subsidies needed.

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The National Family Farm Coalition, (Niaz Dorry,) has a great farm bill proposal, but few progressives know about it. It’s the “Food from Family Farms Act”, (search that). The Texas Farmers Union also has a great proposal, and the National Farmers Union offers the “Market Driven Inventory System”. These are the only credible progressive proposals on all of the biggest agricultural issues. They should be widely discussed at Common Dreams.

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Brad, a lot of my fellow farmers really dislike the ideas of “market management” and “supply management.” They also like to dream about those occasional high prices. If you are the same Brad Wilson who I remember from farm magazines, then I’m surprised you think most farmers would support such a government controlled farm bill.

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It seems to me that this trend is not unique to the oosa. It seems to be the world trend. I have read the same story about Europe.

And the drought / flood inconsistent weather will make it harder to raise crops consistently…which is why prices will rise dramatically.

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It’s true that a lot of younger farmers don’t really know what a real farm bill ever was, or what the results of it were, or that farmers supported it. And the same holds for the previous conservative minority of older farmers, and for those who didn’t get involved and therefore didn’t learn anything. But the majority of farmers have repeatedly supported market management over many decades, as seen in a variety of polls and referendums. It’s incredibly common, even viral for people to bemoan what they imagine farmers believe, based upon anecdotal evidence from a neighbor or two. Farmers support has usually ranged from about 60% to 75%. So yes, there’s long been a minority who oppose it, (25% to 40%), just as there were a minority of hog farmers, (39.8% in Iowa,) voting for the pork checkoff. And there is a minority of blacks voting Republican, and there are women against equal rights for women, (but fewer and fewer). It takes leadership and education, of course. It’s well documented that farm markets chronically fail on both the supply and demand sides, and that therefore farm prices for 8 major crops have been below full costs most of the time since 1981, (USDA-ERS Commodity Costs and Returns) (with only 3 crops above zero for 2007-2013). And milk, every year since 1993 except 2007 by a few pennies per gallon. But individual farmers may not know how to do the math, (full costs assume a wage equivalent, so farmers lose money on their investments in land, machinery and facilities). It’s also well documented that farmers returns on equity are usually in the low single digits, (especially ROE from current income.) The agribusiness buyers and agribusiness input sellers and other food companies and etc. almost always make in the high teens or 20% or 30% range, but probably your farmer neighbors don’t know about this.

Another way to understand NFFC’s market management approach to the farm bill, (& the original farm bill,) is that it’s simply how to manage businesses effectively. It’s what the big corporations do. They don’t over produce goods that then can’t be sold profitably. Farmers are too small to do this individually, (so it’s a bad individual business decision, and needs a government program, so cutting back collectively results in greater income). During the Great Depression, when market failure was especially high, auto manufacturers and farm implement manufacturers cut back in large ways and their prices fell by only 16% and 6%. Farm production fell only slightly, and farm prices crashed by 63% (1929-1933). Unfortunately, farmers and others never hear about that in mainstream media and the farm press, so we need alternative media like Common Dreams to address it.