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High Plains Journal: Farm groups urge Trump to implement Farmer Fair Practices Rules

December 1, 2017

This article was originally published by the High Plains Journal.

A coalition of 82 farm, rural and consumer groups are urging President Donald Trump to implement the Farmer Fair Practices Rules via executive order.

The rules would provide the most basic of protections to American family farmers and ranchers who are enduring unfair and abusive practices as a result of extremely consolidated agricultural marketplaces, the coalition stated in a letter.

“We, the undersigned organizations, respectfully request you take immediate action to protect America’s independent family farmers and ranchers from the prevalent predatory and retaliatory actions of foreign and multi-national corporations,” the letter said.

Massive consolidation in the meatpacking industry over the past 40 years placed just four companies in control of 85 percent of the beef market, 74 percent of the pork market and more than half of the poultry market. In that time, 90 percent of hog farmers and 41 percent of cattle producers have gone out of business while 71 percent of poultry growers now live below the federal poverty level.

“Family farmers and ranchers, simply put, have virtually no market power any more,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, perhaps the largest of the groups represented in the letter to Trump.

“Multinational and foreign meatpackers control our market prices and are dictating much of what happens on our farms and ranches. We’re urging the President to take the first step in addressing the most abusive and unfair practices that happen as a result of our highly concentrated markets. He can do that by implementing the Farmer Fair Practices Rules.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in October withdrew two of the three Farmer Fair Practices rules, effectively siding with multinational meatpackers in their market dominance over family farmers.

In their request to President Trump, the farm groups offered the administration an avenue to reverse this action.

The Farmer Fair Practices Rules are a necessary clarification of the Packers and Stockyards Act, which was passed to ensure competition and integrity in livestock and poultry markets. The rules were first proposed in 2016, but they are the product of law written into the 2008 farm bill, hundreds of field hearings conducted by the USDA and six years of rulemaking.

“While these rules were issued in 2016 under the prior administration, their development has been an ongoing process led by farmers and ranchers since 2010. The prior administration simply did not get the job done. You, Mr. President, have the opportunity to make the difference in the future of rural America and preserve America’s family farmers and ranchers,” the letter said.

The groups contend in their letter to the president that the USDA erred in its assertion that the purpose of the Packers and Stockyards Act does not include protecting individual farmers from unfair, predatory and retaliatory practices. “The original intent of the P&S Act of 1921 was to protect individual producers against the heavy hand of large corporations,” they wrote.

The groups also note that the USDA decision ignores all previous administrations’ interpretation of the intent and purpose of P&S Act and that it releases “the abusive market power of foreign corporations and foreign countries onto family farmers and consumers alike.”

“We call on you, by executive order, to do what others have failed to do and are unwilling to do: return justice to the marketplace,” the groups wrote to Trump. “We remain hopeful you and your administration can take these rules across the finish line on behalf of America’s family farmers, our rural communities and consumers.”

Besides the NFU, other groups signing the letter include Farm Aid; Friends of the Earth; Government Accountability Project; National Dairy Producers Organization; National Family Farm Coalition; Organization for Competitive Markets; Public Citizen; Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA); Slow Food USA; Union of Concerned Scientists; and Women Involved in Farm Economics.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or ldreiling@hpj.com.

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