GREENFIELD: President Trump’s re-election prospects still look good — in rural America — but do his agriculture policies justify rural votes?
As farm and small-town folks, we must keep in mind that family-scale farming is the economic bedrock for our valued way of life.
Unfortunately, the president’s agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, whom he hired to reflect his farm policy views, recently stated to Wisconsin’s struggling dairy farmers that “In America, the big get bigger, and the small will go out.”
This revealing pronouncement is reason alone for rural voters to think twice about permitting Trump to lead our nation again.
It doesn’t add up to Trump’s promise four years ago to reverse the stress on family farmers.
Quite frankly, recent Democratic presidents and their ag secretaries, including former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, have been too complacent on farm policy, too willing to see Big Ag consolidate market power and to see farm consolidation go unchecked.
Granted, under Obama and Vilsack, farm commodity prices, for a while, set 50-year market records. But that was the result of micro-economic conditions, not long-game policy.
When Franklin Roosevelt and Iowa’s Henry A. Wallace took the reins of farm policy in 1933, they had the wisdom to know that the capacity for the farm sector to overproduce and sell at below-cost market prices was a chronic condition unique to agriculture.
They acted promptly to institute their New Deal supply management/price support system to stabilize production agriculture by effectively placing a floor under major commodity market prices. This floor ensured that diligent farmers survived, that rural towns would not wither.
What’s more, this system cost the government a pittance compared to the current Reagan-era freedom-to-farm policy, which has relied on frequent taxpayer-funded bailouts and huge crop insurance subsidies to rescue farmers. In contrast, the New Deal program, when properly administered, at times actually made money for the USDA and was fiscally sound.
The successful New Deal farm policy was dismantled piece by piece by Big Ag interests, starting with agriculture secretary Ezra Benson in 1953 and then later by Earl Butz. So for five decades now, we have experienced farmstead cannibalism, soil and water degradation, cheap grains for vertically integrated factory farms and processors (Smithfield Foods, et al) and a dramatic decline in rural life vibrancy, all encouraged by DC politicians and their Big Ag financial bankrollers.
We have seen the farmers’ share of the food dollar shrink from the 45-cent range to 14 cents today, and recently down 17 percent from its level in 2011.
Rural America is at another pivotal time in its history.
Its agricultural base has no choice but to adapt to realities of climate crisis and destructive pressures on the planet’s natural environment.
Fortunately, there are good prospects ahead if we are creative in this transition, do our part to rescue Mother Earth and are smart about farm policy choices that place power in the hands of independent farmers.
The red state mentality we have seen grow under Trump and his enablers fosters resentment and division and is reactionary. Now, to survive and prosper, we need a much different, common-sense mentality that is proactive, that respects the worth of farmers and townspeople. Obviously then, the Trump regime must go.
Joe Biden wouldn’t have been a first choice for president. But he’s essentially decent, thoughtful, and will advocate for policies more friendly to farmers and therefore good for rural places.
Jay Howe is a retired Greenfield, Iowa lawyer, former Adair County attorney and member of the Wallace Centers of Iowa Board of Directors. He has been active in rural policy and politics for decades in Adair County and statewide.