- Ten Years Later, Farm Aid Remains Necessary to Help Farmers Cope
With Growing Economic Crisis
- Families Leave Land Year After Year
- Farm Income Still Falling
- FARM AID, Family Farmers Work to Overcome Struggles
- Farm Aid Grant Deadlines
TEN YEARS LATER, FARM AID REMAINS NECESSARY TO HELP
FARMERS COPE WITH GROWING ECONOMIC CRISIS
In 1985, as farmers were being forced off their land at crisis rates,
Willie Nelson asked 60 performers to join him in a benefit concert to
raise public awareness about the economic plight of America's family
farmers. The concert was successful at drawing attention to what
was then perceived as a temporary farm crisis. Although the stories
of farm foreclosure, defunct bank loans and emergency hotlines have
receded from major news headlines, America's farm troubles have
continued to grow throughout the past 10 years. Willie Nelson and
other FARM AID artists have had the opportunity to listen to
hundreds of America's farm families since 1985. Their stories have
changed little. Ten years after FARM AID's founding, America's
family farmers continue to face on-going and new economic
pressures. "We never imagined that FARM AID would still be
necessary after 10 years, but over 500 farmers each week are still
losing their land," Willie Nelson says. "The farm crisis has become a
FAMILIES LEAVE LAND YEAR AFTER YEAR
"Newly released data from the 1992 Census of Agriculture show that
farm numbers continue to shrink at a rate similar to that of the mid-
1980s," wrote the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the February
1995 AGRICULTURAL OUTLOOK.
Over the past 10 years America has lost more than 250,000 farmers.
In most cases, these farm families leave their land and stop
producing food permanently. A neighbor, foreign investor or urban
developer typically buys the family's acreage. The land is sometimes
turned over to the hands of another family farmer, but normally
only under rental terms.
"Farm programs have been written the same way for years -- with
full knowledge that the policies would take farmers off their land,"
says Montana farmer Helen Waller, who helped form the National
Family Farm Coalition in 1986. "But, the tragedy is not just how
many farms have been lost. The tragedy is that more than half of
those who have left were young farmers. With so many farmers
near retirement age now, I worry about the security of our food
The average age of America's farmers is now 56 years. Fewer and
fewer young persons are entering the fields. Only 206,000 young
persons under the age of 35 were farming in 1992, compared to
278,000 farmers of the same age in 1987.
FARM INCOME STILL FALLING
At the time of FARM AID's founding in 1985, the average farm
family was earning below-poverty level wages. Today's farmers
earn even less. Average annual farm income, money derived by
farmers from crop production, has dropped nearly 20 percent from
$6,000 in 1985 to $4,850 in 1993. Struggling to survive, almost 90
percent of America's farm families now rely on some form of off-
"The economic situation is worse now for family farmers than it was
10 years ago," says Indiana farmer Susan Bright, who started a local
farm hotline out of her home with the help of FARM AID in 1986.
"When my husband and I began running the hotline and working off
the farm in 1985, we thought it would be a temporary situation. But
now, the hotline has developed into a state-run legal farm council
service. And despite having worked ten years off-farm to pay our
debts, we realize that we couldn't keep farming without off-farm
Bright says part of the problem facing farmers is poor federal farm
policy -- "price policy that's written to benefit mega farms, not
families." Cheap crop prices and rising production costs are the
leading cause of farm crisis over the past decade. While the index of
prices paid to farmers for their crops rose seven and a half percent
between 1982 and 1993, the index of prices paid by farmers for
their inputs jumped 23 percent.
FARM AID, FAMILY FARMERS WORK TO OVERCOME STRUGGLES
"In the early 1980s all the politicians were saying that the farm
crisis wasn't a real problem. They said that the problem was that
family farmers were poor managers," recalls Prairie Fire Rural
Action's Joan Allsup, who rode a train commisioned by the DES
MOINES REGISTER to take Iowa farmers and lawmakers to the first
FARM AID concert in Illinois.
"It wasn't until the first FARM AID concert that national attention
was finally given to the problems faced by farmers. FARM AID
helped identify government programs as part of the problem, and
brought credibility to the voices of struggling family farmers."
In partnership with local organizations, FARM AID has provided
more than 20,000 farm families with direct emergency assistance
over the past 10 years. Emergency funds have been used by farm
families unable to pay for house and personal expenses, such as
grocery and utility bills and health care premiums. FARM AID has
assisted thousands of other farm families by funding hotlines,
counseling services and legal consulting.
Since 1985, FARM AID has made more than $12 million available to
over 100 farm organizations, churches and service agencies in 44
states. These organizations have been communicating directly with
farmers to identify and resolve on going problems as well as new,
emerging obstacles to family farming. The rapid spread of factory
farms, for example, is accelerating the loss of other wise healthy
family farms and putting in jeopardy the sustainability of the
nation's food supply.
"Just because we don't get visibility anymore, doesn't mean this farm
crisis isn't real," says Joan Allsup. "It's a systemic problem that
requires commitment and hard work to resolve -- the type of work
FARM AID has been known to support for the past 10 years."
FARM AID GRANT ANNOUNCEMENT
FARM AID is now accepting grant proposals from family farm
organizations for our post-concert funding cycle.
The deadline for submitting proposals for our post-concert cycle is
September 15, 1995. Decisions will be made by October 31. Call
Harry Smith for grant guidelines.
October 1: FARM AID's 10th Anniversary Concert.
Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky. Tickets available beginning
August 28. $25.00. Call Ticketmaster, 1-800-487-1212.
The following books written by family farmers about the daily
struggles and rewards they have experienced. The books should be
available at most major bookstores.
In Good Hands: The Keeping of a Family Farm, Charles Fish. 229 pp.
New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $21.00.
Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family, Jane
Brox. 143 pp. Beacon Press. $18.00.
Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm, David Mas
Masumoto. 233 pp. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco. $20.00.
Mapping the Farm: The Chronicle of a Family, John Hildebrand. 252
pp. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $23.00.
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.