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A Farm Bill for Rural America
Fact Sheet • February 2011


ur food system is broken, and it didn’t happen by accident. Rampant consolidation in the food industry has left control of much of our food in the hands of a few large firms which serve as a bottleneck between 2 million farmers and more than 300 million consumers. Farmers receive lower prices for their products while consumers face higher prices at the grocery store. As more farms bow to the economic pressure to “get big or get out,” rural communities have suffered.

Consumers are increasingly seeking alternatives to the industrial food system. Sales of organic foods have skyrocketed in recent years, and new farmers markets are sprouting up across the country. But we can’t just shop our way out of this problem. While we work to restore links in our local food systems that bring farms and consumers together, we must fix our broken food policy at the federal level. Our next farm bill should ensure fair markets for farmers and rebuild regional food systems that consumers need to reconnect with healthy, fair food while strengthening rural economies. Here are three ways the next farm bill can help.

Supporting Family Farmers
Independent family farmers — those that are smaller than industrialized operators producing one crop for giant agribusiness and larger than very small niche farms directmarketing produce — should be the backbone of American agriculture, but they have become increasingly rare over the last three decades. It’s no surprise that many farms have failed: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent Census of Agriculture, less than half of all farms in the United States break even. The rest rely on off-farm income to cover their expenses.

Farming requires significant up-front investments just to get started each season, but farmers don’t get paid until their crops are harvested or their livestock are delivered to market. Farmers rely on loans to buy farmland and to finance their seasonal operation costs, but access to credit on fair terms is often difficult to find, especially during the Over the last three decades, farm policy has emphasized current economic crisis. The largest commodity growers tools that work well for big agribusiness corporations but find it easier to get loans, crop insurance and disaster paynot for farmers. Independent family farmers have been sold ments than do smaller, sustainable operations. Farmers who out by an agriculture policy that favors the overproduction want to transition from conventional commodities to fruits of commodity crops like corn and soybeans. The resulting or vegetables, organic production or other alternatives have low commodity prices hurt farmers and benefit agribusidifficulty accessing these important programs. ness buyers of these crops, including factory farm feedlots The right farm bill policies are critical to providing fair marthat feed corn and soybeans to livestock and processed kets and a safety net for family farmers. food manufacturers.

Strengthening Rural Economies by Rebuilding Local Food Systems
America needs more than one kind of farmer raising more than one kind of crop or animal. Investments in research to improve productivity and facilitate value-added processing and marketing should serve the needs of an array of farm sizes, production models, regions and supply chains. Consolidation in the food system has eliminated the local butchers, independent dairies, produce wholesale marketplaces and regional grain milling operations that used to be found in every region of the country. Small farmers are increasingly able to sell direct to consumers, but it is harder for medium-scale farms or those who raise livestock or grains to get their products to market without access to independently owned infrastructure like meat plants, grain mills and distributors. Rebuilding the missing links in the food chain could revitalize communities, create jobs and offer consumers more choices than they currently have in a system where a few companies dominate the supply chain for most foods. Farm bill programs should be targeted to support the rebuilding of local and regional food production infrastructure and distribution chains.

Diversity: We need more than one kind of farmer raising more than one kind of crop or animal, and opportunities for beginning and minority farmers to thrive in agriculture. Regional and seasonal markets: Every region of America used to produce nearly every kind of crop and animal that people eat. Our food policy should encourage farmers to grow and consumers to eat crops suitable to their region, season and climate, while supplementing their winter pantry with produce from warmer parts of the United States, or with imports from places with adequate safety, labor and environmental rules.

Environmental Stewardship

Family farms can play an important role in promoting clean energy and mitigating climate change. Sustainable agriculture can sequester carbon in the soil, proliferate on-farm windmills and produce bioenergy from crop wastes for on-farm energy consumption. The role of farmers as stew• Safe workplaces and fair wages: The food system needs ards of biodiversity should be supported and encouraged. to be fair to everyone that labors to bring food from the Mid-sized livestock operations producing meat and milk in farm to the fork. responsible ways can deliver environmental, economic and social benefits to rural communities, if they can survive in markets dominated by large factory farms. Take Action The farm bill should encourage sustainable agricultural practices that help small and mid-sized farmers stay in business and protect the environment. The farm bill should also discourage the expansion of large-scale confinement livestock facilities. We need good food policy to drive the change we want in our food system, so that everyone has access to good food and rural economies can thrive by feeding their neighbors. This won’t happen by itself. We need to organize in our communities, hold our elected officials accountable, and make sure they get the message loud and clear that we need a fair farm bill. To join the campaign for a fair farm bill and take action, go to

How to Get There
The farm bill is crucial for creating a more fair, safe and sustainable food system. We need to work to make sure the 2012 Farm Bill includes: • Fair markets: There need to be enough buyers for crops and livestock to give producers a fighting chance to receive a fair price. Sustainable livestock: Independent, family-scale livestock operations producing meat and milk in responsible ways should replace industrial livestock operations.

For more information: web: email: phone: (202) 683-2500 (DC) • (415) 293-9900 (CA) Copyright © February 2011 Food & Water Watch