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The Betrayal of Family Farmers and Farmstead Ideals

An ex-family farmer from Arizona speaks out

(3rd edition - Nov 2010) by A.O. Kime
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Once a family farmer of 1,120 acres in southeastern Arizona from 1973 until 1998 (25 years), ultimately ruined by hyperinflation and treachery, is a time worthy of deep reflection. The last quarter of the 20th century illustrates perhaps better than any point in history the farmland betrayals... the reasons behind that dying way of doing business. Of course, the purposeful elimination of small family farms has throw into chaos our centuries-old social and economic order. Born of globalization agendas and nurtured by malicious farmland manipulation, the repercussions are proving catastrophic.

Family farmers not only cultivate values but, as an industry, small farms have always been a nation's economic backbone. The purchasing habits and operational style of large corporate farms, on the other hand, are proving a poor substitute. While farming itself will live-on despite governmental intervention, being an immortal profession, by design not so the small family farm... which means saying more goodbyes to the quality of life. After all, the extent businesses integrate human values is usually relative to their size... often flourishing in small businesses, existing less in larger ones and virtually nonexistent in the biggest.

Although 'efficiency' was once the exclusive domain of private enterprise and entrepreneurship, this changed when Washington got into the efficiency business for the sake of agricultural exports. Due to the fact governments are too big to have any moral fiber, on their pedestal sits power and control instead of values. Nor, in American agriculture, is there anything honorable about forced efficiency by always keeping 'profit' just beyond reach... as if dangling it on a stick. Agricultural policies are designed to keep farmers perpetually in dire straits to force upon them more production. Survival of the fittest should be nature's domain... not Washington's.

To witness extinction is hard to grasp at first, the significance isn’t realized until sometime later - years later. In grammar school (1940s), I saw the passing of the Old West as our dairyman neighbor parked his buckboard for good. So too, he retired his bullwhip, harnesses and mules... now being just nostalgic memorabilia. Politically relegated to yesteryear's scrapheap as well, today we are witnessing the last gasps of the family farmer.

The perfect pawns for globalization

While family farmers have been stereotyped accurately over the years, that is, being family-oriented folks, ethical and hard working although always struggling financially - of a seemingly indestructible character - it was their trusting nature which became their Achilles heel. A trusting soul and a dash of naivety proved a fatal combination in dealing with our new-age government bureaucrats. The street-smart agricultural officials of the last half century, the hierarchy primarily and subservient to a fault, became the apocalyptic agents for doomsday when they began sacrificing family farmers for globalization purposes. Four million fewer farms across America is testimony... being less now than before the Civil War.

The recent ethanol boon (corn) and increase in exports due to the falling dollar doesn't change the overall picture either. Agricultural boons are invariably short-lived. Along with foreign competition sure to quickly arise, boon and bust is being insured by the faltering, rising and manipulated currencies worldwide.

The normally passive, easy-going family farmers were seen as the perfect pawns for globalization and were setup to take a big fall. Over the past several decades, it has been the policy of the USDA to eradicate family farmers (through economic attrition) for the purposes of globalization (see family farm and agricultural socialism). After all, without control of agriculture globalization could never succeed. Their modus operandi? For the hand-to-mouth farmers, it is a simple three-step procedure... first loan them money, then restrict their ability to pay it back, then foreclose.

So how does the USDA restrict one's ability? Well, their purposeful agenda of overproduction equates to crop prices below the cost of production which subsidies only partially address.

Through attrition we'll weed out the inefficient ones, as their thinking went... except 'inefficient' equates to 'small'. Is inefficiency a crime if, in the opinion of the farmer, it sufficiently serves his needs? Of course, it isn't a matter of the farmer's needs anymore (or his idea of efficiency), but that of the U.S. government.

Forced efficiency be damned... family farms are the backbone and cultural classroom of America. They support better the local economy and provide more jobs than large corporate farms while at the same time cultivate values... time-honored values. Family farms are the breeding grounds for ethics and a place where children, being impressionable, most often adopt them. But the yellow school buses gathering kids from the countryside are far fewer or running nearly empty these days. Exiled to the cities, it will be rap music these children hear instead and to know gang-signs, tattoos and ecstasy. Under the shadow of government, they'll also learn about pretext and hypocrisy. This is the price America is paying for globalization.

Farming in the Sulphur Springs Valley

In the mid 70s USDA officials announced that in order for America to compete worldwide, we farmers needed to plant as much as we could. I still remember their haunting words... "plant fencerow-to-fencerow boys". Seen as a profit opportunity along with having some sense of patriotism, we gathered up as much farmland as possible and took out enormous loans. In our valley, even the marginal farms saw life again and after it was all taken it wasn't long before cultivated crops replaced some 50,000 acres of cactus and mesquite.

At the time, however, we didn't yet realize where this would lead. While we didn't expect the demand for this amount of production would be over so quickly - leaving us high and dry with our financial necks stuck out - neither did we see the coming social impact. Operating a large farm, after all, can't be described as a lifestyle. We didn't see this shift was to change the character of farming and thus the face of America... threatened would be the time for cows, pigs and chickens and family participation. We simply didn't see efficiency (speed) would likely be incompatible with kids tagging along and 4-H projects. Efficiency means there'd be little time to smell the roses.

Nonetheless, blinded by greed and with our trust in the USDA... we walked right into a trap.

The USDA's drive for efficiency - which carried no provisions for profit and no regard for the quality of life - led to the elbowing for more land and ultimately fewer farmers. The USDA's idea of profit was 'subsistence'... but even that was hard to achieve. While the promised subsidies initially looked good on paper but for a variety of unforeseen reasons - such as hyperinflation and rising power costs - subsidies were just never adequate. But, by then, having already taken out huge loans yet outstanding, plus having made additional investments in land and equipment, there was no turning back.

By 1979 the farm acreage here in the Sulphur Springs Valley (Arizona) had dramatically increased to 175,000 acres, more than doubling that a few years earlier. This phenomenon was to be short-lived however. Along with hyperinflation, in a few short years crop prices took a nose-dive and the acreage under cultivation went into a freefall. By the mid 1980s, anticlimactically, without fanfare, as if merely the passing of clouds, it shrank to less than 30,000 acres. Many farmers just packed up and quietly moved away, broke, never to be seen again.

Even though the acreage increased slightly during the mid to late 90s and held steady at between 35,000-40,000 acres, that meant some 135,000 acres were still lying fallow. Where mesquite trees and a variety of cacti once existed became a sea of tumbleweeds instead and when the wind blew, the remaining few dozen farmers, myself included, had to constantly tend to their irrigation ditches with a pitchfork. A tumbleweed, once having been blown into a water-filled irrigation ditch, will uplift the siphon tubes which stops the irrigation process. The wind will also stack these tumbleweed high against anything in their way, against houses, outbuildings, barns and farm equipment. The tumbleweeds simply dominated the countryside and removing them was almost a daily chore.

Nope, it just ain't the same anymore. Most all the kids are gone now... no more feeding the cows, pigs and chickens or cleaning out corrals. No more starting siphon tubes or chopping weeds either... something that once kept them busy and out of trouble. Their folks moved away, you see, probably to find a job in some damned crime-infested city. No sir, the old barns just don't have that endearing atmosphere anymore... the government done sucked it all up.

All across America now it's mostly about debt, grief, apathy, surrender and far fewer farm-related businesses. Farmers just can't last as long anymore either as farms continually change hands. Yet, despite this government intervention, the farmers of today - unless they're the huge investor-type farms - still endear the same code of ethics as the once small family farmer. It's something to build upon if ever the government comes to its senses.

While free trade once gave America a positive balance of trade for several decades, the dynamics have since changed. Washington must realize the drive for globalization is now costing America dearly and calls for protectionism (tariffs on imported goods) as we'll never-never regain a positive balance of trade. With the growing number of emerging economies the last 10-15 years and with the abundance of cheap labor worldwide says globalization (free trade) is not longer in the best interests of America.

Although the drive for globalization was always a dreadful situation for famers - the whipping boy for America's import appetite - protectionism would cause a return to smaller farm operations. The worldwide demand for U.S. farm products would be greatly reduced due to the sure-to-come trade wars... but to save this country we have no choice. We simply must get back those millions of jobs sent overseas.

Aside from putting an end to America's massive joblessness (14.6 million now unemployed), protectionism would also have the effect of recapturing our national heritage... the small family farms.

America is the biggest marketplace in the world and would have far-far less to lose from any trade wars. It would be the greedy transnationalists (mega-corporations) who demonstrate they owe no allegiance to any country and the currency-manipulating Chinese would suffer the most. Of course, some American businesses would be especially hard hit - such as the airline industry - but that concern doesn't trump the need to keep us from becoming a third-world country.

Field crops versus fruit and vegetables

Until protectionism comes - as it eventually must - fruit and vegetables aren’t under government control but growing them is a risky business. The problem is, the market will only support so many acres of each commodity and other farmers, trying to avoid the government's next subsidy ambush - being refuges in effect - are always trying to horn-in on these enterprises. Even though it’s risky and competitive, you have a chance to 'make it' with fruits and vegetables. With government controlled crops, it’s a matter of being slowly strangled to death. With each government check you cash, you’re being paid to go broke.

To match acreage to meet the demand, specialty crops require only about 20% of America’s farmland, the other 80% is used for high consumption crops like cotton, corn and grains which are under government control. Government control means your going to lose money so that means 80% of America's farmland is usually in dire straits. That means a tremendous amount of labor and resources are expended for naught except to pave the road towards globalization. It also creates additional pollution (otherwise unnecessary) and unnecessarily saps aquifers. All this just to sate the aspirations of the transnationalists.

The purveyors of agricultural commodities

While trying not to create too much of a glut thereby risking grower participation, history tells us the USDA prefers erring on the side of too much production rather than too little. A bone, of course, is occasionally (or accidently) thrown.

When they do misjudge (demand exceeds supply) - which is usually due to major weather-related crop disasters - that's the only time the unaffected farmers can make any real money. However, since a shortfall in the balance of trade is exclusively a government concern, the USDA tries to insure shortages don't happen. Of course, this manipulation of market forces makes a mockery of free enterprise. Further, as purveyors of agricultural commodities, it puts government in the business of farming... in a very real sense making farmhands out of the actual farmers.

Although the quest for globalization began with controlling farm production, as a predictable consequence was the
outsourcing of manufacturing jobs spelling the end of the American dream. See Outsourcing... the killer plague of
the American Dream

Put in more realistic terms, since farmers are captive to the situation it's more a form of slavery. After all, slavery can be defined in different ways. Whether it's called indentured servitude or outright slavery, a reshuffling of the rules just put a different face on the same game... the farmer now the whipping boy.

My extraordinary efforts to save my farming operation revealed an even uglier side of the USDA however... for that story see Farm Policies and the Undoing of an Arizona Family Farmer

A.O. Kime

Last modified: 02/07/16