Family Farmers, Fishers and Food Workers Urge Eaters Everywhere to Contact Their Elected Officials and Demand Food Sovereignty NOW to Commemorate April 17th – the International Day of Peasant Struggle

For immediate release – April 16, 2018Contact:

John Peck (608.345.3918),

Anthony Pahnke (612.916.9148)

Lisa Griffith (773.319.5838)

On April 17th each year, members of La Via Campesina – the largest umbrella organization in the world for family farmers, fisher and herder folk, hunters/gatherers/foresters, and indigenous peoples –  commemorate the massacre of landless peasants in 1996 in the Amazonian state of Pará, Brazil. Nineteen members of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) were attacked and killed while hundreds more peasants were injured by Brazilian military police during their protest for comprehensive agrarian reform. This struggle for justice continues in Brazil today.  Events planned for April 17th worldwide may be viewed online (http://bit.ly/ 2GUu8Y0April17th).

For many years Family Farm Defenders, Food & Water Watch, National Family Farm Coalition and other La Via Campesina allies have staged protests outside the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Board of Trade on April 17th to protest lack of federal anti-trust enforcement and global commodity price rigging that hurts farmers and consumers alike.

Instead of a protest this year, U.S. food sovereignty advocates are urging citizens to take the spirit of April 17th directly to the politicians as Congress enters debate on the 2018 Farm Bill and the White House reconsiders forced trade deals like NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Many farmers, particularly dairy farmers, are finding themselves in worse financial shape now than during the height of the1980s crisis, leading to a wave of bankruptcies and tragic suicides.  Unregulated fake “organic” imports and taxpayer subsidized expansion of “organic” factory farms are even hurting the small farms that pioneered the organic food movement in the U.S.  Unprecedented agribusiness concentration is destroying access to non-GM and locally adapted seed varieties.

Adding insult to injury, the Farm Bill draft just released by the House Agriculture Committee supports strict work requirements for SNAP recipients, allows the EPA to approve pesticides without analyzing potential harm to endangered species, reduces support for many conservation programs, and slashes funding for the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (Section 2501).

This April 17th please take a stand in favor of food sovereignty by contacting your elected officials in Congress – you can find their contact information by calling the Congressional Switchboard at #202-224-3121  or by visiting http://www.house.gov  and http://www.senate.gov.

Among the key issues to discuss with your representative and senators:

Demand #1:  Create a farmer-controlled supply management program for commodity grains and for dairy, in particular, which is extremely perishable and costly to store. Canada already has a supply management system which ensures farmers a parity (cost of production) price while keeping food prices more affordable which the U.S. could certainly replicate.

Demand #2:  Reinstate COOL – Country of Origin Labeling – for all meat and seafood, as well as dairy products. Citizens in more than 60 other countries have the right to know where their food comes from, and U.S. consumers who wish to support U.S. farmers should have access to the same basic information, since  we currently have such a rule for clothing, electronics, and other household products. Having COOL in place would simplify the second part of this ask – imposing tariffs on milk protein concentrate (MPC) entering the US. Our dairy farmers can produce enough milk to meet our domestic requirements, and we should not be allowing dairy processors to import such unsafe alternatives to make the likes of infant formula and cheese.

Demand #3:  Place a moratorium on all new and expanding CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), which not only destroy clean air and water, but also abuse animals and exploit workers, while generating surplus milk and meat that drive down market prices and ultimately hurt smaller, more responsible farmers. A CAFO moratorium would  facilitate the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) anti-trust enforcement against the food giants, big box retailers, and other agribusiness corporations that are guilty of price-rigging and manipulating markets for their own profit to the detriment of everyone else in our food/farm system.

Demand #4:  Require the National Organic Standards Board to employ the Leopold Center’s fluorescence spectroscopy test – using light to measure chlorophyll – to identify milk from grass-fed cows accurately and inexpensively. This step would expose those operations that are violating the organic pasture rule. (Note to everyone:  check out the Cornucopia Institute’s organic dairy score card to see just how well each store brand stacks up at https://www.cornucopia.org/ dairysurvey/index.html.)

Demand #5:  Support the rights of workers to organize for living wages and better working conditions across our entire food/farm system.  In particular, immigrant workers are now under attack even though they are critical to the success of U.S. agriculture and have become a vibrant sector of many rural communities.  Food sovereignty is impossible without dignity and respect for ALL those who contribute to sustaining our society.

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Family Farm Defenders Annual Meeting & John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Award Dinner! Sat. April 7th, 2018 – Baraboo, WI

Best Western Baraboo Inn 725 W. Pine St.

9:00 am – 12:00 Noon  FFD Annual Meeting – open to the public

12:00 noon – 1:00 pm  local food lunch (suggested $10 donation)

1:00 – 4:00 pm  Community Food Sovereignty Forum – with participatory panels focusing on immigrant farmworker solidarity, water issues, and the ongoing dairy farm crisis

Invited speakers include: Becky Schigiel, exec. director, Worker Justice Wisconsin; Erica Sweitzer-Beckman, farmworker attorney, Legal Action Wisconsin, Dr. Diego Calderon; UW Veterinary School (and former immigrant dairy farmworker); Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch; Jen Riemer, farmer activist with Green County Defending Our Farmland; Pete Hardin, editor of the Milkweed; Jim Goodman, organic dairy farmer; and Rob Anderson, board member of Westby Cooperative.

Baraboo Arts Center – 323 Water St.

4:30 pm reception with cash bar

5:30 pm award dinner featuring local grassfed organic foods, plus vegetarian options

6:00 pm  Welcome by Joel Greeno, FFD President; John Kinsman Tribute by Ben Burkett, MS Association of Co-ops, and Keynote by George Naylor, IA farmer, and former president of the National Family Farm   Coalition (NFFC) on Parity Price, Democracy, and Food Sovereignty

6:30 pm  John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize,  honoring the legacy of FFD founder, John Kinsman (1926-2014) This year’s winners:  Tommy & Samantha Enright of Black Rabbit Farm near Amherst, WI, and Craig & Lauren Kreutzer of Meadowlark Farm near Wonewoc, WI!

Dinner tickets are $30 per person and can be ordered in advance (send check to FFD: P.O. Box 1772, Madison, WI 53701) or online via the Razoo donation link on this website!

If you plan to attend and pay at the door we ask that you RSVP in advance so we know how many to expect!  Please let us know at:  familyfarmdefenders@yahoo.com

Family Farm Defenders is also seeking additional sponsors for this year’s John Kinsman Prize!  All sponsors will receive an honorable mention in the evening program and any sponsorship over $100 will receive two complimentary tickets to the award dinner!

All gifts to FFD are tax deductible.

Please spread the word and share the Facebook event:  https://www.facebook.com/events/195240804400847/

Hope to see you in Baraboo Sat. April 7th!

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Retailers Want to Own Farmers – CAFOs Fill the Bill

By: Jim Goodman, organic dairy/beef farmer near Wonewoc, WI, board member of Family Farm Defenders and new president of the National Family Farm Coalition

As dairy farmers have seen many times in the past, a glut of milk has flooded the market and dropped farm pay prices to the point that some farmers will be forced out of business. Generally it is the smaller farmers that go first. For them, credit, to try and ride out the storm, is harder to come by.

Aurora’s “organic” dairy factory farm

CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operation) seem to be the preferred method of dairy production in the US. Processors and retailers like the model, sort of a one shop stop to get as much milk as you need. Consistent volume of production pretty much year round makes sourcing easy an no pesky farmer co-ops complaining about low prices need be involved.

I personally never thought the CAFO model would show up in the organic dairy business, at least in my lifetime. Sadly I was very wrong. Large dairy farms, mostly in the Western US, in recent years have ramped up production to the point that there is now a glut of organic milk on the market, and our prices, like those of overproducing conventional farmers, have fallen well below the cost of production. We are all slowly going broke and going out of business.

In the organic world it is generally not the small farmer who is producing too much milk. Following organic production requirements keeping cows on pasture in season and ensuring minimum of 30% dry matter intake from pasture is not a burden for farms like ours—it’s just part of a farming system that works, that’s why its also part of USDA organic standards.

Whether CAFO farms are actually organic is the real question. USDA inspectors insist these farms, like Aurora in Colorado, are meeting the standards despite investigations by the Washington Post and Cornucopia Institute showing only a few hundred cows at most, out of a herd of 15,000 on pasture at any given time.

Having raised cattle on pasture all my life, I am always at a loss to understand how 15,000 cows could be moved to and from pasture between milkings. Cows move slowly, 15,000 would require hundreds of acres of grass per day—that is a long walk. Impossible.

But having the blessing of UDSA, CAFO’s continue to grow to the point that “About half of the organic milk sold in the U.S. is coming from very large factory farms that have no intention of living up to organic principles.” according to Mark Kastel, co-director of the nonprofit Cornucopia Institute.

This milk is part of a captive supply chain between the CAFO organic dairies and the big retailers, Wal-Mart, Costco, etc. Works very well for both parties, lots of milk produced cheaper than real organic milk (as the CAFO’s are allowed to ignore at least some of the organic standards) so the big retailers can undercut milk prices paid to small organic farms, and the CAFO has a guaranteed market.

This is not a new phenomenon, conventional pork, poultry and now dairy farmers as well, have over the years, seen a similar process take over and decimate their supply chains. Once the big players control the system it is all but impossible for a small farmer, cheese maker or meat processor to get into the system—that’s why its called a captive supply.

To hell with the free market, farmers are encouraged to get a contract, it’s safe, you have a market—perhaps not a good price, but at least a market. Things used to be different, buyers were competing for milk, which was good for our price. I remember having three milk processors at our farm at the same time trying to get our milk. Those were the days.

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Free Trade should benefit the people, not corporations

By:  Jim Goodman, organic dairy/beef farmer (Wonewoc, WI) and FFD Board Member

Capital Times (Madison, WI) Jan. 10, 2018

There is a lot of angst in the US corporate world. They are quite concerned that the renegotiation talks between the US, Canada and Mexico (the three participants in the North American Free Trade Agreement –NAFTA) may not deliver a new agreement that is as lucrative as the old NAFTA.

NAFTA has been in place since 1994. It is a classic neoliberal trade agreement as described by essayist George Scialabba: “investor rights agreements masquerading as ‘free trade’ and constraining the rights of governments to protect their own workers, environments, and currencies.” As such, it has served corporate interests well.

US corporations counted on NAFTA and other trade agreements to keep wages low by the threat of, or actual movement of manufacturing jobs to wherever it was easiest to exploit workers and the environment.

A re-negotiated NAFTA, would, if U.S. negotiating positions were accepted, force Canada to scrap the price protections that give their dairy farmers a fair price for their milk. In Mexico, US corporate interests would hope to prevent Andrés Manuel López Obrador, if elected president, from trying to bring Mexican farmers out of poverty. Obrador calls for expanding the country’s dairy industry and rebuilding its native corn production. (American agri-business destroyed Mexican family farm corn production by dumping cheaper corn on the Mexican market—hence the spike in illegal emigration to the U.S. after NAFTA went into force.)

Protectionist policies on the part of Canada and Mexico? Yes, but what is the function of government if not to protect its citizens? Trump says “America first” but it goes both ways. Presumably, our government was not founded with the intent of protecting corporate interests. In fact, as Thomas Jefferson noted, “The end of our democracy— will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations”.

Looks like we’re there.

If farmers, union members and small businesses were the intended beneficiaries of free trade agreements we should all be doing quite well financially. Dairy farmers should be getting a fair price for their milk, workers should be earning a living wage and small businesses should be lining the main streets of America again–but we know that is not the case.

Multinational corporations, the real beneficiaries of free trade agreements, write the rules, stash their profits in off-shore tax havens, all while they cleverly tout the agreements as being in the best interests of the farmer and wage earner.

As a dairy farmer I am told trade agreements have and will continue to help me “compete globally”. Through NAFTA we can increase our sales of dairy products to Mexico and crack Canada’s protection of their farmers milk price. Notice they do not say this will increase our profitability, only our sales— so why should I want to produce more, sell more, when there is no profit? It only means farmers will need to work harder to make the same or less at the expense of Canadian and Mexican farmers.

Of course, that is not the concern of the “dairy industry”. Their profit is insured by the willingness of farmers to produce more and never question why they cannot get a fair price. If dumping our cheap corn on Mexico or putting Canadian dairy farmers out of business is the price of increasing corporate profit– so be it.

President Trump promised to make NAFTA better or pull out. What he and his administration would define as better is a very loaded question. I have seen little in the past year to indicate the administration wants to do anything to raise farm prices, wages, or curb the influence of corporate interests on government. Just look at the new tax bill–let the good times roll for the rich and corporations!

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Voss is wrong when he says “NAFTA has worked for Wisconsin. It’s not the time to put new obstacles in place that would hurt the very markets that our business owners and farmers depend on.” If NAFTA has worked why are farmers being told to expect continued low prices in 2018?

So, rather than more of the empty populist rhetoric that fueled his campaign and election, the President, for once, actually needs to follow through on a promise: NAFTA should be replaced not re-negotiated.

As Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch noted, “Trump launched the promised NAFTA renegotiation in August, but U.S. corporate interests have persuaded Canada and Mexico to not engage on U.S. proposals to transform NAFTA in ways that U.S. unions, small businesses and consumer groups have long argued would slow job outsourcing and downward pressure on U.S. wages”.

Anyone who supports the continuation of NAFTA without questioning who actually benefits really has no concern for the best interests of farmers or workers in the US, Canada or Mexico.

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Stop pretending the estate tax has anything to do with us family farmers

Rolling back the estate tax is the least of our concerns

By:  Jim Goodman, FFD board member and organic dairy farmer, Wonewoc, WI

Washington Post, 11/15/17


Politicians love to invoke the “family farmer” when it’s politically useful. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

The mystique of the family farmer in this country goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson’s model for democracy. Jefferson centered his vision on the yeoman farmer, who, with family labor, worked a small farm and embodied the virtues of honest and hard work. It was an important idea to a new nation that was supposed to be built on independence and fairness — not aristocracy and privilege.

The idea of the yeoman farmer has evolved into the present-day notion of the family farm, a life few Americans understand but one that they seem to hold dear and want to preserve: The family farmer cares for the land, the animals and the local community because that is their heritage.

It’s no wonder that food packaging depicts that image of the family farm, with little red barns, cows and chickens in the grass and the farm family working together — it sells. This image has nothing to do with how the vast majority of food that fills supermarket shelves is produced, but that hasn’t stopped politicians from invoking the family farm when selling the public on policies that have little to do with those of us who still do the work of family farming.

As Republicans push ahead with their tax reform plan, the small farmer is again invoked. This time it’s about the estate tax. During a speech in North Dakota, President Trump declared, “We’ll also protect small businesses and family farmers here in North Dakota and across the country by ending the death tax.” He added: “Tremendous burden for the family farmer, tremendous burden. We are not going to allow the death tax or the inheritance tax or the whatever-you-want-to-call-it to crush the American Dream.”

But few farmers put the elimination of this tax on the top of their wish lists. Only about 20 farms a year are subject to any inheritance tax, and in almost all cases, those farms have adequate liquid assets to cover the taxes without having to sell any part of the business to do so. After searching for 35 years for one example of a family farm that was lost due to the estate tax Iowa State professor Neil Harl stated simply, “It’s a myth.”

It is a sales pitch, nothing more, again capitalizing on that mystique of the family farm that people hold so dear. Getting rid of the estate tax is a gift to the very rich, not to farmers. As the old saying goes, ask a farmer what they would do if they won a million dollars: Keep farming till it ran out.

While estate taxes are not a threat to the family farm, we face plenty of other challenges. But you’ll never see politicians tackle the greatest threat to the family farmer: unfairly low prices for our products.

Farmers, no matter what they produce, are always encouraged to produce more, with no question how much might be too much. Agricultural research focuses on increased yield, be it milk, corn, soy, poultry or any other agricultural commodity.

Current government policies encourage increased agricultural production as a means of economic growth because a growing gross domestic product supposedly means a healthy economy. The days of government supply management policies that kept supply in balance with demand, thus helping maintain fair farm prices while adequately supplying market needs, ended during the Reagan administration. It’s all about feeding agribusiness and the global economy. Local economies and rural communities? Not so much.

Small farmers, ranchers and fishers are caught in an increasingly consolidated food system. Increasing market concentration through corporate mergers gives us little choice but to buy from a limited group of input suppliers and sell to a limited number of buyers.

And again, small farms are impacted most severely. Often, I can’t find things I need for my farm in the local stores. Small farmers aren’t worth the bother, I guess. Mega-organic dairies have saturated the market and cornered the supermarket trade. My milk price has dropped by 30 percent in the past year, while the average retail price for a gallon of organic milk has gone up 25 percent, according to USDA figures.

If you are marketing hogs by the semi-load, you will have better market access. If you are selling 60,000 pounds of milk a day (I sell 1,500 pounds), you’ll probably get paid a sizable volume premium. Farms got bigger to gain the advantage of economy of scale. They still may be family owned, but there are few red barns or animals on pasture.

Corn and soy are in such oversupply that farmers, even on the largest farms, are lucky to recoup their production costs. So taxpayers are helping prop up low grain commodity prices through the government subsidy programs: Farmers get a government deficiency payment when prices are low. This works well for the international grain companies. They can purchase cheap grain, knowing that next year, farmers will keep planting because subsidies will keep the farms afloat.

While subsidy programs are at best a very poor solution to a very big problem (low farm income), the real beneficiary of the subsidy program has always been the corporate grain buyers and the dairy and livestock processors. Farmers only want a fair price for what they produce, not government programs that encourage overproduction of low-priced commodities.

The U.S. agricultural economy has and always will be designed to ensure corporate agribusiness profits at the expense of farmers and consumers. We, the farmers, will of course, be expected to remain silent, work harder and avoid dissent in a nation ruled by an administration that will not tolerate dissent.

The nostalgia and fascination with the family farm is gratifying for those of us who still run a family farm, but sadly that doesn’t help pay the bills. In time, the family farm will exist only in nostalgic illustrations on milk cartons at the supermarket, and in the false promises of politicians.

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