As a farmer told me, "You can still make a small fortune in agriculture, but the problem is you have to start with a large fortune."
Farmers tend to be optimistic pessimists. They know the odds are against them — the bankers, bugs, monopolists, violent weather and sorry politicians. Yet, they keep at it as long as they can; working long and hard hours, enduring arduous conditions and tremendous stress to nurture the seeds that bring us an abundance of foods. But sometimes, the odds bunch up. Coping with natural disasters is to be expected. It's the unnatural disasters of rigged economic policies, Wall Street greed and unrestrained corporate profiteering that slam the door on good, efficient family farmers, making it impossible for them to keep producing.
This is one of those times. Aside from the rise of floods, drought, tornados, etc. (hello, climate change), farmers are now in the sixth year of plummeting prices for their crops and livestock. They're producing more than ever but getting less. For example, it costs dairy farmers on average $1.92 to produce a gallon of milk, but the giant processors pay them only a-buck-32 per gallon. No surprise then that since 2000, half of America's dairy farmers have been squeezed out of business by monopoly pricing. And now comes Trump's trade spat with China, which has collapsed the market and prices for grain farmers. Overall, farmers' profits have fallen by almost half in the last five years. Farm debt, bankruptcies, sales and suicides are rising towards the calamitous levels of the 1980s farm crisis, and concentrated corporate power is fast tightening its grip on nearly all food production, prices and policies.
Indeed, a central cause of the spreading farm depression is the increasing monopolization of all the things farmers must buy (from seeds to machinery) and of the markets that buy from them. The big four biotech ag giants, for example, control 63 percent of all commercial seeds sold in the world; four meat processors control 84 percent of the U.S. beef market; and four global traders control up to 90 percent of the world's grain sales. Our farmers and their families are hurting, but so far, our leaders, including the president, aren't helping them.
Speaking of the president, have you noticed how often Donald Trump prefaces his policy statements with phrases like "frankly," "honestly," "to tell the truth," and "believe me"?
More than a verbal tic, his constant use of these qualifiers subliminally admits that being frank, honest, truthful and believable is not normal for him. So, like a carnival flimflammer selling snake oil, he strains to convince us rubes that he's not flimflamming: "Really," he claims with lying lips, "in all candor, this time I'm truly telling you the gospel truth. Trust me."
Among those who're learning about the truthiness of The Donald are the farmers who voted for him, having bought his campaign promise to stand up for them and restore farm prosperity. Once in office, though, he quickly sold them out. First, he threw a hissy-fit of a trade war with China that ended up slapping down U.S. farmers by drastically worsening the already-low prices they were getting for their crops. Instead of prosperity, the average farm profit last year was minus $1,500!
Then, trying to smooth over this betrayal of the heartland, Trump tweeted out a message to ag producers in December that probably didn't warm that many hearts: "Farmers, I LOVE YOU!" he professed in capital letters. (I'm guessing he offered the same sweet insincerity to Stormy Daniels after he ... well, you know.)
Actions speak louder than words, of course. On March 11, Trump then took action to express his true love for farmers: He whacked $3.6 billion from the safety-net programs that offer a measure of relief to hard-hit producers when crop prices crash. Revealing his plutocratic core, the cuts specifically targeted programs that benefit small farmers — a deliberate manipulation meant to drive more families off the land and increase corporate monopolization of agriculture.
Not satisfied with intentionally injuring family farmers, Trump added insult by calling the dab of support they get from the government "overly generous." This from a real estate flimflammer who continues to rake in millions of dollars in government cash and special tax breaks.
Far from stepping up to stop this robbery of farmers, ransacking of rural vitality and rip-off of consumers, Congress and Trump coddle the monopolistic robbers, ransackers, and rip-off artists. To help counter their insanity, join forces with the grassroots power of Farm Aid.
Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes "The Hightower Lowdown," a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.