March 07, 2021

KALBACH: ‘We need a New Deal-era type of ag policy’

As a nation, we need to decide: Do we really want three to four major corporations dictating who eats and who doesn’t? Because, at this time in our nation’s history, that is exactly where we are headed.

I am a fourth-generation family farmer from Adair County and a Registered nurse. I grew up on an independent and diversified family farm in Iowa. Family farms in those days grew chickens, hogs, beef cows, milking cows. We drank our own milk and saved the cream for cooking. We had our own eggs and chickens for eating. Extra eggs and cream could be taken to town and sold for extra grocery money. We also raised soybeans, corn and hay to either feed to our own livestock or sell on the local market.

Until the 1980s, our farm communities had five to six families per square mile. They spent their money in the surrounding small towns for veterinarian services, livestock equipment, feed, machinery, fuel, farm supplies, repairs — as well as shoes and clothes, groceries, doctor visits, dentist visits and more for the family. This all supported businesses and created tax revenue for the community. Kids from these six families supported local schools.

When the Farm Crisis hit in the 80s, tens of thousands of independent family farmers lost their farms while resources became concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations. Part of the problem continues to be that resources and public money is always going to the ‘big guys’, like the factory farm industry. Whether it is money for loans or money from the CARES Act for COVID relief, the money is being used to prop up corporate control of agriculture. If that money were invested into programs that give greater access to new and beginning farmers — particularly to people of color who have been left out of policies in the past — we could really revitalize our rural communities.

Programs for new, beginning farmers could be created using grants or forgivable loans. The cost of both land and the equipment to farm it is huge! Interest on loans is not an issue, but the initial cost is! A new, beginning farmer can’t just walk onto the land and start farming. Perhaps these grants or forgivable loans could be used to purchase the first 160 acres and the basic equipment needed to farm. A new Homestead Act, if you will. We must begin to revitalize rural America , or it will be lost.

Lost to whom? Huge corporations. As anti-trust remains unenforced, corporate ownership of everything from the finished food product to the soil that grew it, continues to concentrate into fewer and fewer entities....both foreign and domestic. Soon, rural America will be emptied out of skilled individual producers, and there will be no price competition for goods and services to the American public. There will be one price, and it will be dictated to the consumer.

Iowa has been the epicenter of the profound changes to agriculture. The USDA program called Freedom to Farm has been in place for 40 years. It has been a dismal failure to rural America. Rural areas are economically depressed, receiving around 37% of their revenue from some kind of federal aid: farm payments, WIC, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and much, much more. We need a new, broad-reaching farm bill under the Biden Administration and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. A new Farm Bill needs to take a look at the Harkin-Gephardt model with its net-zero carb provisions. We need a New Deal-era type of ag policy with its price floors & supply management.

A new Farm Bill needs to be designed with the knowledge that a healthy family farm industry is the foundation of a healthy rural America.

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Barbara Kalbach farms in Adair County, from rural Dexter, and is a registered nurse. She is one guest columnist in a network of writers who will be featured giving comment on various topics in upcoming editions of the Adair County Free Press.