Choosing sides for American Dream
Family farmers and ranchers are America’s original and most quintessential entrepreneurs. They are the cornerstone of America’s economy and the wellspring of our nation’s values. And they are the stewards of rural America’s most beautiful landscapes.
Unfortunately, if you raise livestock, then you sell into a dysfunctional market where packers hold all the cards and routinely discriminate against smaller farmers and ranchers by offering massive, volume-based premiums to large, industrial producers. That discriminatory pricing has taken its toll. In 1980, there were more than 1.3 million ranches and farms with cattle nationally. Today, fewer than 950,000 are still in operation. In 1980, there were more than 666,000 hog farms, but now fewer than 67,000 are in operation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed reforms under the Packers and Stockyards Act that instill an element of fairness for family farmers and ranchers in the livestock markets they depend upon for economic survival. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack now must decide whether to proceed with his proposed reforms. And that means we all face a choice, to side with farmers, ranchers, and rural communities or with the packers, National Pork Producers Council, and other proponents of industrial livestock production.
If we want a future with thriving family farms and ranches, vibrant rural landscapes, quality food, and the chance to realize the American dream, then we must fight for it. The USDA’s effort to reform livestock markets and bolster competition is a bold stand in defense of that American dream, and is worthy of our support.
John Crabtree is the media director for the Center for Rural Affairs. The Center for Rural Affairs was formed by rural Nebraskans concerned about family farms and rural communities, and work to strengthen small businesses, family farms, and ranches, and rural communities.