The concerns of farmers will take center stage this year and next as a new Farm Bill is reauthorized. In anticipation of the 2002 Farm Bill, the U.S. Catholic bishops and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference are working together to hold listening sessions at selected locations around the country. They will invite farmers and farmworkers to share their concerns and use this information to better inform the policy priorities of both organizations.
The National Catholic Rural Life Conference is collaborating with other family farm and sustainable farming advocates to focus on specific aspects of farm bill policy. These include fair prices for farmers, greater anti-trust protections, and various incentives for farmland stewardship. The U.S. bishops have formed an Ad Hoc Committee on Agriculture Issues the purpose of which is to analyze current realities in production agriculture and farm labor, and then to determine if their current USCC policy adequately addresses these new realities.
At the federal level, the Commission on 21st Century Production Agricultureauthorized by the 1996 Freedom to Farm Acthas delivered its report decribing in detail how well the current farm support programs are working. Over the past few years, low commodity prices in both grains and livestock have triggered massive government payments to farms; the market transition payments authorized by the 1996 farm bill were insufficient to offset the combination of low prices and high costs of production. The report also reflected a degree of dissension among Commission members. Some of them have concluded that the Freedom to Farm support system has totally failed. Like past reports by special USDA Commissions, there continues to be language indicating support for a family farm structure of agriculture. However, most observers see little change in the trend toward corporate farms and continued consolidation in processing and retailing of agriculture products.
As the farm bill debate unfolds, Congress will still be wrestling with ways to help farmers survive 2001 since prices are likely to remain below cost of production.
Historically, the U.S. Catholic bishops have advocated for government support that would enable the nation to have a broadly owned and operated family farm system of agriculture. There are several reasons for this:
- A diversified system supports stewardship of the land, diversity of plant and animal life, viable family and community life, and appreciation for God's gift of creation, values which are undermined by a corporately controlled and highly concentrated system;
- Food is unlike other commercial commodities because it is necessary for life itself. Therefore, the quality and quantity of foodand a sustainable food systemare critically important. The bishops believe that an owner-operated family farm system best meets these goals;
- The federal government has a significant role to play in this area by providing enlightened policy guidelines and a base of financial support.
If you have input you would like to share with either NCRLC or the bishop's Ad Hoc Committee on Agriculture Issues, we urge you to do so. In addition, as the series of hearings unfold, please assist us in identifying important stakeholders for this discussion. Besides farmworkers and their advocates, growers, family farmers and agribusiness executives, we hope to include consumers, labor, environmentalists, faith-based groups and citizen action groups. When it comes to agriculture and food, everyone needs to be invited to the table.
For further information: Dan Misleh 202.541.3190; (fax) 202.541.3339; email@example.com or Bob Gronski, NCRLC, 515-270-2634; (fax) 515-270-9447); firstname.lastname@example.org.