Letters to the Editor

This Summer, Family Farmers Will Need More Than Lip Service to Survive

The views expressed are those of the individual authors and not necessarily those of DTN, its management or employees.


To the Editor:

My husband and I have been running our family farm for nearly 50 years, and each year, it gets harder to make ends meet. By now, I should be comfortably growing my business, but instead, I'm still fighting to get a sliver of a market that's dominated by a handful of powerful corporations.

My story is just one of many that our Senators and USDA Secretary should consider when they meet this week (https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/…) to discuss challenges facing farmers and rural communities. Lately, the weaknesses of this near-monopoly status quo in the food system have become more apparent than ever. Americans are facing dangerous shortages of critical goods like infant formula, and as global supply chains strain amid conflict in Ukraine, the food and agriculture market is increasingly volatile.

Big agriculture corporations are exploiting volatile conditions to explain away sky-high prices they charge for food, when in fact they are shamelessly manipulating markets at the expense of small farmers who have been facing extinction for years (https://time.com/…). And the very same issues that are threatening my business are also making it harder for me as a consumer to put food on the table for my family. Over the past year, the cost of groceries has risen 10.8% (https://www.cnbc.com/…). There are so few companies that dominate each stage of our food system, they can pay farmers less while charging consumers more (https://www.nytimes.com/…).

It's time for our leaders to step up and put these corporations in check.

Elected officials are finally talking about corporate consolidation, debating proposals that range from investing in new meat processing plants to incentivizing more crop production to try to address global supply chain problems. But the issues that family farmers and rural communities face are decades in the making and there's still a lot of work to be done.

The plans we are hearing so far pale in comparison to the record-breaking profits that corporate executives are squeezing out of the market. For instance, members of the Cargill family, who control the privately-held grain trading giant, have recently enjoyed a surge in wealth that landed three of them on the list of the 500 richest people in the world (https://www.bloomberg.com/…), each with a net worth of $5.3 billion. Two more relatives already on the list last year have over $7 billion each.

We'll need a lot more than tweaks to the current system to get dollars out of executive suites and back into our local communities.

It's time for bold legislation that lays the groundwork for a more equitable, sustainable agriculture system. That starts with a strong Farm Bill.

We need a Farm Bill that tackles corporate monopolies, levels the playing field for independent farms and empowers consumers to support regional food systems. For instance, we need antitrust measures with real teeth to prevent corporate mergers that further consolidate our market. And reinstating mandatory country of origin labeling for meat would help stop corporations from falsely promoting imported foods and give consumers the transparency they deserve to make informed choices about products.

Legislators need to listen to the voices of farmers who have been supplying our communities with healthy and sustainable food for generations. We, not corporations, know what American businesses need to thrive in the current, unpredictable world.

On behalf of my family and small farms across the country, I urge our leaders in Congress to buckle down and craft a meaningful Farm Bill that will benefit us all. The future of our food system depends on it.


Barb Kalbach is a fourth-generation family farmer, a registered nurse and a board member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.


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