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Archive for the ‘Contract Farming’ Category

Congresswoman Kaptur Stands up for Farmers!

Over the last few months I’ve witnessed a 3 ring circus going on in the US House of Representatives and if ever there were a time that faith in our government was at an all time low, it is at this moment in time.

Despite the expressed majority in favor of the USDA Grain Inspection Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) Proposed Rule change relating to fairness in the livestock and poultry industry, the House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee mark up of their appropriations bill yesterday included a provision to stop USDA from implementing a Final Rule.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reports  that Representative Kaptur (OH) spoke out against the provision saying the bill would prevent USDA from implementing the rule even though the 2008 Farm Bill explicitly directs USDA to do so.  Kaptur has been a long time proponent for family farms.

I’ve written several posts relating to the Proposed Rule and the issue has become larger than life. Many contract poultry growers have come out of hiding from the fear of losing their contract for speaking out about the many problems within the poultry industry. It’s a big no, no as was revealed in Food INC.

Through contracts to raise livestock and poultry, corporations cohabiting in farmer’s neck of the woods have absolute control over the farms and farmers they contract with. The USDA GIPSA Proposed Rule would go a long way in ensuring fairness and level the playing field for farmers in their contract relations with corporate agribusinesses. Self described by farmers as being “serfs on their own land” has no place in today’s world.

One of the major players lobbying in opposition to a Final Rule implementation, the National Chicken Council (NCC), representing industrial chicken companies says that the proposed competitive market rule by USDA GIPSA “will fundamentally change how chicken companies operate especially with contract growers”.

Intimation from industry has been that companies would no longer contract with farmers they would own the farms that produce chickens for them. For those of us who are familiar with poultry industry maneuvering, subtle and indirect hints of putting farmers out of business is nothing new. Intimidation/coercion is what we call it! I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about subtle hints that the chicken industry will move operations to a foreign country being used while lobbying congress!

The one thing that both sides of the issue agree on is that the Proposed Rule will bring fundamental change. From the farmer standpoint the change would be a positive step forward however industry is adamant that this change will not happen.

What comes to mind is the question that if everything is wonderful and we don’t need change, why is this issue being vigorously debated? Why did farmers decide “contract termination be damned” and come out of hiding to support the Proposed Rule Change?

One thing certain about the issue is that corporate agribusiness has shown its hand and can no longer say that they support their partners the farm families they contract with. Farmers want and need the fundamental change that the Proposed Rule would bring and their partners in the chicken industry are fighting against them.

Dead in its Tracks? House moves again to stop fairness for farmers

My last post, “House Moves to Deny Farmers Fairness”  talked about the abuse of power being exercised by House members representing the wealthy powerhouse lobby of industrial agribusiness in attempting to stop the finalization of the USDA GIPSA Proposed Rule change to the Packers & Stockyards Act regarding marketing of livestock and poultry.

A letter sent forth by the House urged USDA to withdraw the Proposed Rule and rewrite and re-propose a new Rule. The Obama administration has said they will not withdraw the current Proposed Rule change saying that Congress mandated USDA in the 2008 Farm Bill to develop new rules to promote marketplace competition.

There has been so much drama surrounding this one issue and looking at the history is mind boggling. It’s no wonder that the government is broke! While I can recount “talk” about the issue of fairness in the marketing of livestock and poultry going back 20 years I’ll cut our illustrious politicians a break and just go back to the 2008 Farm Bill mandate.

It’s now 2011. USDA clearly accepted the 2008 mandate and proceeded to accomplish what they were directed to do. In June of 2010 the Proposed Rule was issued by USDA and opened up for public comments. Following an uproar from the corporate agribusiness world the deadline for comments to be accepted was extended from the normal 90 day comment period to 180 days.

After 6 months of accepting public comments ending in November of 2010, USDA began analyzing the comments received. Over 60,000 comments were received and according to sources it quickly became apparent that the majority of comments received are in favor of the Proposed Rule change. The minority was not happy and rumblings began to stop USDA from moving forward.

Since November 2010, USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, has jumped through many hoops for our illustrious politicians regarding the Proposed Rule and in December 2010 agreed to conduct an economic analysis before writing the Final Rule.

Both the House and Senate Agriculture Committee followed up on the economic analysis fiasco in February 2011 hearings with Secretary Vilsack using almost identically themed questions. Those on the outside looking in saw more of the “same old, same old” happening, once again!

In April 2011 a Public hearing was held by the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry and included a panel on the state of the poultry industry. The three witnesses included a Virginia poultry grower representing the Virginia Poultry Federation, the chairman of an Iowa turkey processing company testifying on behalf the National Turkey Federation, and the President of a Georgia chicken processing company testifying on behalf of the National Chicken Council. Obviously the interest of corporate agribusiness were well represented and all had the same message concerning the USDA Proposed Rule change.

We are now approaching the end of May 2011. The newest trick being performed in the House circus is in the center ring and it’s no joke! The U.S. House of Representatives released their version of the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill and it includes language to stop the USDA GIPSA* rule dead in its tracks.

Page 61, Lines 8-15 of the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill:

“SEC. 721. None of the funds made available by this or any other Act may be used to write, prepare, develop, or publish a final rule or an interim final rule in furtherance of, or otherwise to implement, the proposed rule entitled ‘‘Implementation of Regulations Required Under Title XI of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008; Conduct in Violation of the Act’’ (75 Fed. Reg. 35338 (June 22, 2010)).”

This is nothing more than a last ditch effort by the House to accommodate the minority who don’t want any Final Rule written by USDA which will ensure fairness in the livestock and poultry industry. In other words, the House is banking on it taking away any funding to USDA that would allow the agency to do its job and issue a final rule representing the majority and leveling the playing field for farmers.

In light of this most recent happening, several unflattering thoughts run through my mind. Blatant abuse of power by the House and obvious kowtowing to corporate agribusiness interest is alive and well. We the people are being thrown aside once again by our illustrious politicians. It appears that those who have deep pockets wield the influence of our government. It’s business as usual in our Nations Capitol!

It’s urged by many that you call your Representivives NOW!
Ask to speak to your Representative directly, not a staff person. If unavailable, give your name and phone number for your Representative to return your call. Have the person taking your call repeat your information back to you.
Tell your Representatives to REMOVE the language (“SEC. 721. – listed above) in the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill and to take a stand for farmers.
Capitol Switchboard – (202)224-3121

House moves to deny farmers fairness!

There is a movement within the US House of Representatives to deny farmer’s finalization of the USDA GIPSA Proposed Rule change to the Packers & Stockyards Act of 1921 (Proposed Rule). The Proposed Rule change would level the playing field for contract poultry farmers in their dealings with corporate agriculture.

Leading the charge is Representative Costa (CA) with a “Dear Colleague” letter asking House members to sign onto which will then go to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. The letter asks Secretary Vilsack to withdraw the Proposed Rule which was issued in June 2010 and to re-propose a revised rule once an economic analysis is complete.

Those opposed to any Rule change are arguing that USDA has far exceeded the mandate in the 2008 Farm Bill however they fail to acknowledge that USDA needs no approval by Congress to propose a Rule change or to implement a Rule change.

The Proposed Rule has a long history and has been a long time in coming. Contract poultry farmers have worked toward implementation of a Rule change for the past 20 years. The latest being a mandate by Congress within the 2008 Farm Bill. USDA’s current Proposed Rule Change, issued in June 2010, has jumped through many hoops and came out of an extended public comment period with 60,000 comments mostly in support of the Proposed Rule change.

Following an uproar from the opposition, who clearly lost during the public comment period, USDA agreed to apply an economic analysis to the Rule change before implementing a Final Rule. This in itself is not required however Secretary Vilsack has allowed for a graceful method for the losers to shut up.

Representative Costa’s letter clearly is not in favor of the majority nor is it in favor of farmers. It’s no secret who the opposition is to any changes within the Packers & Stockyards Act and who doesn’t want any rules that have to be followed. Costa’s letter speaks of “those most impacted” however he fails to specifically who that is.

The poultry and livestock industry (Corporate Ag) need to suck it up and get over it. Finally farmers will have a few rules which level the playing field within their contract relationship with the big boys. If corporate ag had listened to the rumblings 20 years ago and that have only gotten louder over time, the poultry and livestock industry would have made changes instead of farmers having to go all the way to Washington DC and have mandates put in place that make contract farming fair.

Furthermore, this movement within the US House of Representatives is another example of individual members playing politics as usual despite a clear indication by the majority of the people saying what they want. This behavior by House members is an abuse of power and a huge waste of time (not to mention taxpayer dollars). Wasting time and money appears to be the current theme in Washington DC and once again our illustrious politicians are serving those with the most private dollars.

Is it any wonder that our farmer population and farms continue to steadily decline in numbers or that new or beginning farmers are scarce?

Facts about Proposed Rule

National Chicken Council, House Ag Committee Speak

“GIPSA rule would hurt those it would support”

According to an article in Feedstuffs a weekly newspaper for Agribusiness, counsel for the National Chicken Council (NCC) says that the proposed competitive market rule by USDA Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) “will fundamentally change how chicken companies operate especially with contract growers”.

During NCC’s annual conference in Washington DC October 5th and 6th, Gary Kushner, a partner in the law firm representing NCC, said in an opening statement that the rule is an example of a government agency “run amuck”, that it (the rule) goes well beyond congressional mandate and GIPSA’s statutory authority, and accuses GIPSA of “unprecedented” advocacy by lobbying for support of the rule during active comment period.

Apparently on hand, Pete Thompson, a senior staffer of the House Agriculture Committee is attributed as saying that a recent meeting with several supporters of the Rule were under all kinds of misperceptions.

It’s no surprise that NCC’s counsel would say flimsy and negative things about the GIPSA Proposed Rule Change but why is a senior staffer of the House Ag Committee reporting to NCC about meetings or for that matter relaying House Ag Committee business?

Fundamental change is needed in how poultry companies operate and more so in dealings with contract growers. Obviously NCC disagrees. That’s no surprise since NCC represents the companies in the poultry industry.

Now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty! The House Ag Committee apparently is cozied up to the poultry companies and GIPSA is all wrong in representing its constituency, the farmer. This is a perfect example of how government agencies that are put in place to care for and protect the American citizens come under attack by powerful lobby through our legislative branch. It’s no wonder that nothing ever gets done in Washington.

A previous post talks about how contract poultry growers have to do their own lobbying to counter act the power lobby of NCC. Are poultry farmers wasting their time in thinking that talking to their legislators who represent them will bring positive change?

Furthermore GIPSA has the authority to make Rule changes without an ACT of Congress. The proposed Rule change which would put into place much needed protections for poultry farmers doesn’t need Congressional approval. BUT, all of the maneuvering through the Legislative branch and the House Ag committee can exert enough pressure to kill the Proposed Rule Change.

Now we know what happened to the “Government by the People For the People” that our forefathers invoked. It was a beautiful dream but in reality those who have the most money, power, and influence rule the day!

More to come on this subject!

Related Links:
Poultry Farmers Go to DC
Poultry Growers Meet With Lawmakers
GIPSA Proposed Rule

Poultry Farmers Trade Their Work Clothes For City Clothes

A recent press release crossed my desk and I though it noteworthy. Poultry farmers going to Washington DC is not an everyday occurrence or for that matter a yearly occurrence. Not many farmers can afford a trip to our Nation’s Capitol however when something as important as saving their livelihood is at stake many beg, borrow, or steal to make the trip. Poultry farmers don’t have paid lobbyists in Washington, DC.

At issue are the USDA Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) Proposed Rule Change which would give contract poultry farmers a more level playing field in their dealings with the corporate giants that they contract with. As with anything that might take away the massive control exerted over farmer’s, and as you will notice in the press release, the companies are lobbying hard in congress against these new rules.

The Old Farmer Lady’s question is why? If everything is as beautiful in the relationship between companies and the farmers why would the corporate ag lobby congress hard against anything that is beneficial to the farmers?

If you believe statements coming from the National Chicken Council (NCC) the answer would be that they are trying to protect the farmer. I’m sorry but I need to invoke a little bit of common sense here. If the NCC says that they are trying to protect you then you had better tell them no thanks you can take care of yourself. Their idea of protecting farmers is more than likely not for your own good!

Wasting taxpayer dollars, which by the way are not in the bank to spend, a movement by those who would like to kill the Proposed Rule Change suggest that USDA needs to do an extensive economic analysis. In some instances this might be necessary however in this case it is a waste of time and money. This issue is not new and has been studied, analyzed, and scrutinized every which way you can think of. Nothing has changed except for more good farmers going out of business.

Over the past 20 years I can’t count how many times this issue has come to the forefront only to be killed by those who don’t want to see farmers regain control of their farms. Power, wealth, and influence have always been a factor. Since poultry farmers have none of the above it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to figure out why changes have been killed over the years.

Ironically USDA GIPSA has the power to change the Rule. It doesn’t take an Act of Congress to do this. Poultry farmers shouldn’t have to spend a day in Washington, DC knocking on Congressional doors. But alas those with the lobbing power have made it a Congressional issue.

This subject is far from being over and you will read more postings by me. OFL will be taking a hard look at those for and against contract poultry farmers gaining a level playing field in their dealings with corporate giants.

Poultry Growers Meet With Lawmakers

For more information contact:
Mike Weaver CPGAVA 304-249-5347

Poultry Growers Meet with Law Makers

Several members of Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias (CPGAVA) met last Tuesday in Washington with Agriculture Legislative Assistants for several Senators and Congressmen as well as the House Agriculture Committee to solicit their support for new contract agriculture rules that have been proposed by the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) a division of USDA.

These new rules will create a base pay which poultry integrators (companies) cannot take away from as is the current practice under the ranking system by which growers are paid, require contracts for a period long enough for growers to recoup 80% of their considerable investment in their poultry raising facility, make retaliation against growers a federal offense, and many other changes that will bring contract agriculture into the twenty first century.

Mike Weaver, President of Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias, who was one of the participants in the meetings, said that “… the companies are lobbying hard in congress against these new rules because they do not want to lose the control over growers they currently enjoy. Growers are paid just slightly more than what growers were making twenty five years ago and documentation proving that was presented to the legislative assistants who could not believe poultry producers are still abused like this in 2010 Weaver said.

GIPSA released these new proposed rules for comment after meeting all of the requirements for such a release which are extensive. This comment period was initially to end August 23 but was extended until November 22 at the request of the House Agriculture Committee to allow a more detailed analysis of their impact. “A movement is now afoot to require USDA to do an extensive economic analysis which is a typical strategy to attempt to kill these rules…” Weaver said. “We have had a system in place for the implementation of rules such as these for a long time and that procedure has been put into motion. We would like to see that procedure left to take its course without undue political influence…” Weaver said. He also encouraged growers to call their elected representatives and tell them they support these new rules that will help keep growers in business.

Poultry farmers who are not familiar with the changes these new rules will bring about are encouraged to contact Weaver at 304-249-5347 or any member of Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias for more information. Or they can go to the USDA web site at USDA.

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