- "Clinton Administration to Host National Rural Conference, Farmers
to Rally to Ensure Rural Voice Is Heard;"
- "Chronic Poverty Characterizes Many Rural Communities;"
- "Family Farmers Once Backbone of Rural America;"
- "Factory Farms Exacerbate Rural Poverty;"
- "New Rural Development Opportunities Needed;"
- "Farmers to Rally at National Rural Conference."
CLINTON ADMINISTRATION TO HOST NATIONAL RURAL CONFERENCE
FARMERS TO RALLY TO ENSURE RURAL VOICE IS HEARD
Family farmers and rural residents have been meeting for decades at
local coffee shops, in church basements, at community centers and
national gatherings to develop local, state and national
recommendations for long-term rural sustainability. Despite these
efforts, local and federal lawmakers historically have been unwilling
to include farmers and other rural residents in the policy-making
decisions pertaining to rural development.
Twenty years ago this monh, for example, more than 1500 people
from across the country gathered in Washington D.C. to hold the First
National Conference on Rural America. "The primary purpose of the
Conference was to give people from all over the nation and
representing diverse interests an opportunity to discuss the
problems facing rural communities and to consider ways in which
those problems can be solved," the conference staff reported. The
problems cited in 1975 by Conference participants included growing
rates of rural poverty; dwindling access to health care, education and
employment; shrinking farm income; and inadequate conservation
measures. Their suggestions on how to solve these problems were
largely ignored by Congress.
Ten years later, in 1986, hundreds of rural residents from 48 states
who were deeply affected by the chronic economic conditions that
led to the beginning of the farm crisis, gathered in St. Louis, Missouri
for the United Farmers and Ranchers Congress, sponsored by FARM
AID. Farm delegates representing diverse rural interests came
together with a unified voice at the Congress to provide lawmakers
with a workable solution to the economic strife plaguing America's
rural communities. Although the Congress was successful at bringing
groups together, their proposals to fundamentally reform farm policy
were ignored by a majority of lawmakers and the Reagan
Now, in 1995 America is still debating the future of our rural
communities. President Clinton will host a National Rural Conference
in Ames, Iowa April 25, where he is expected to address many of the
same problems rural communities faced in 1970s and 1980s, as well
as a host of new economic, environmental and social issues. Family
farmers, ranchers and consumers are organizing to ensure that the
Clinton administration and Congress move beyond talk to develop
concrete solutions to the problems facing rural America. Rural
communities can't wait another 20 years for new opportunities.
Since 1975 rural poverty rates in America have jumped from 15
percent to 20 percent, more than 800,000 farmers have left their
land, and the nation's rural countryside has been dramatically
CHRONIC POVERTY CHARACTERIZES MANY RURAL COMMUNITIES
Since 1959, when the USDA began tracking poverty rates, farm and
non-farm poverty in rural areas has outpaced poverty rates in urban
The Task Force on Persistent Rural Poverty, formed by the Rural
Sociologist Society in 1990, notes that rural poverty most likely
began with the creation of USDA programs encouraging consolidation
and mechanization of the farming sector. "As a result of
modernization, farm productivity increased, fewer and fewer
farmers were needed to grow the food the country required, and
farmers were thus forced to compete with one another to supply the
market. As some farms prospered, others went into financial ruin,
creating a new population of poor rural residents and a growing
disparity between those who had and those who had not."
For the last five years, rural household income has remained 25
percent below urban household incomes, due in large part to rising
unemployment in a number of rural sectors, including agriculture.
FAMILY FARMERS ONCE THE BACKBONE OF RURAL AMERICA
Millions of family farms once populated America's countryside --
creating the need and support for grocery stores, implement dealers,
schools, churches and medical facilities. The need for these services
remains, however support for them has dwindled over the past
several decades as the nation's farmers have been pushed from their
land. The United States has lost 800,000 farms since 1975; today the
USDA estimates 600 farms go under each week. In their place, a
small number of factory farms have sprung up which are slowing
gaining control of, and severely altering, America's rural landscape
and economic prosperity.
FACTORY FARMS EXACERBATE
Factory farms -- large, sometimes foreign-owned production and
processing facilities, have moved in to rural communities across the
nation with the promise to provide economic stability and good-
paying jobs. Unfortunately, these promises have not been kept.
Most factory farms pay minimum wages to rural residents and make
no use of farmers' management skills or production knowledge.
Likewise, profits generated by the factory owners are usually
withdrawn from communities immediately, rather than being
reinvested locally or spent at a town's grocery stores, implement
dealers and other retailers.
Federal lawmakers have historically encouraged the growth of
factory farms by setting farm policies that promote chemical
intensive production and cheap commodity prices, while ignoring
anti-trust and environmental laws already in place. Likewise, state
governments, seeking short-term solutions to rising rural
unemployment, have often waived tax and environmental laws to
attract large production and processing facilities offering low-paying
NEW RURAL DEVELOPMENT
Past federal and state governments, as well as Congress, have given
priority to rural development proposals offered by our nation's
processors, exporters and researchers -- namely "solutions" that
encourage overproduction and cheap exports. While many of the
proposals to rejuvenate rural economies have been based on
conventional economic theory, none, in practice, have worked well.
It's time for local and national lawmakers to listen to those who are
most affected by rural development policy: America's rural residents
and family farmers. Families and individuals who have witnessed
the decline of rural communities will ask President Clinton next week
to develop policies that will level the playing field for family
farmers; restoring them once again as the backbone of rural
FARMERS TO RALLY AT NATIONAL
The National Rural Conference has been scheduled by the Clinton
administration to address issues important to rural America.
President Clinton and new Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman have
stated their intention to use this forum to listen to rural residents
and to develop policies that will address rural America's urgent
To ensure that family farmers' voices are heard both inside and
outside the Conference, the National Family Farm Coalition is holding
a Rally for Rural Justice outside the Conference site April 25. For
more information about the Rally for Rural Justice, contact the
National Family Farm Coalition, (202) 543-5675.
On April 19, members of the National Campaign for Family Farms
and the Environment, began a six-day march from Lincoln Township,
Missouri to the National Rural Conference site in Ames, Iowa. The
purpose of this march is to raise awareness about the devastating
impact of factory farms on rural communities, family farmers and
America's countryside. Building on the momentum generated at the
April 1 rally in Lincoln Township, the Campaign is holding meetings
in 12 towns along the march to invite farmers and other rural
residents to join their Journey for Justice. For information about the
march from Missouri, contact the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, (314)
We welcome comments and suggestions: contact Harry Smith at
FARM AID, (617) 354-2922. We encourage the reproduction of
FARM AID NEWS. Produced by The Institute for Agriculture and
Trade Policy (IATP) for FARM AID. Editors: Gigi DiGiacomo and
Harry Smith. For information on other agriculture bulletins, contact
IATP: (612) 379-5980.