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Bush Administration Driving Family Farmers off the Land

>From <www.commondreams.org>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AUGUST 31, 2004


CONTACT: Global Resource Action Center for the Environment
Chris Cooper 212.726.9161

More Family Farmers Failing Under Bush Administration - Small Farmers
Struggle as Programs Benefit Corporate Agribusiness

NEW YORK - August 31 - By placing most of the 2002 Farm Bill¹s economic and
conservation funding in the hands of immense industrial farms, Bush
Administration farm policy is forging two rural America¹s: one a fading sect
of traditional family farmers with little funding and a diminishing supply
of land, and the other a small but wealthy agribusiness elite driven by
taxpayer-funded incentives.

³What we¹re seeing here and everywhere in this business is the corporate
industrialization of agriculture by non-farmers,² said Chris Petersen, of
the GRACE Factory Farm Project and a multi-generational farmer himself.
³They say bigger is betterSbut for whom? Not for family farmers and
certainly not for rural communities.²

The 2002 agriculture census, the most recent farming data available, shows
that small to medium sized traditional family farms are vanishing at an
astonishing rate and being replaced by larger, mechanized facilities. Census
data shows that the number of hog farms in the country has decreased by 37
percent in five years - over 45,000 farms abandoned. During that same
period, the national inventory of hogs has only dropped by one percent.

On the Bush Administration¹s watch, mammoth industrial farms have collected
an ever-greater share of federal farm subsidies. In 1995, they received
$3.98 billion, or 55 percent of all federal farm payments. In 2002, their
portion increased to $7.8 billion, or 65 percent of all federal payments.
Currently, almost 30 percent of agricultural subsidies go to the top two
percent of farms and over four-fifths to the top 30 percent.

Indeed, the 2002 census confirmed the consolidation of the U.S. farming
sector around a smaller number of increasingly wealthy corporate players.
The census found that the most profitable three percent of large farms earn
61 percent of all the money paid for agricultural products in the United
States.

³By shrinking the market for sustainable farming, consolidation is forcing
traditional family farmers to foreclose or become contract growers for
industrial agriculture,² said Alice Slater, President of the Global Resource
Action Center for the Environment (GRACE).

One Bush Administration program, masquerading as environmental clean-up,
actually is helping corporate agribusiness at the expense of traditional
family farmers. Under the Bush Administration¹s Environmental Quality
Incentives Program (EQIP), 60 percent of program funds must go to help
livestock producers meet environmental regulations. Since generally only
operations with 1,000 or more animals require regulation, the vast majority
of funds are directed toward large industrial facilities.

³In all the language in the EQIP program, they have taken farmer out and
inserted producer,² notes Petersen. ³The program ends up robbing the true
stewards of the land to pay the biggest polluters.²

Immense industrial livestock factories generate about 575 billion pounds of
manure every year that is stored in open-air pits called ³lagoons² and later
spread on the surrounding cropland. Manure run-off contaminates local
drinking water and produces excess amounts of nutrients in surface waters.
The extra nutrients cause an overgrowth of algae that depletes water of
vital oxygen and strangles fish.

Lagoons are also known to generate gases such as ammonia and hydrogen
sulfide. Exposure to these toxins can created severe respiratory problems
including chronic bronchitis and asthma.

³Farm policy under the Bush Administration has made industrial farms more
competitive than they would otherwise be by forcing taxpayers to foot the
bill for their clean up,² notes Slater. ³By ignoring the principle of
Opolluter pays¹, the Administration is subsidizing big agribusiness at the
expense of traditional family farmers,² she said.

President Bush has recently suggested expanding another program, the
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), that provides incentives for farmers to
set aside some of their land indefinitely. But the program has the effect of
squeezing traditional family farming out of rural communities by opening
more land to non-agricultural activities. Indeed, studies by the American
Farmland Trust have found that every minute of every day America loses two
more acres of rural farmland.

³Despite the rhetoric, traditional family farmers seem left out of the
current vision for rural America,² said Slater. ³Our future should be about
preserving access to wholesome food by preserving access to wholesome food
by protecting rural America¹s farming heritage, not finding new ways to
stamp it out.²

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