Bill of rights aims to protect family farms, proponents say


Jack "Miles" Ventimiglia, Daily Star Journal (MO)

Dec 5, 2017


Warrensburg – Agri-giants add to rural poverty by crushing family farms with help from Jefferson City lawmakers, something the proposed “Farmer’s Bill of Rights” aims to reverse, Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Webber told about a dozen party members Monday in Warrensburg.


“Rural workers are most likely to be working and living in poverty at the same time,” he said.


Poverty grows in rural Missouri due to fewer family farms, leading to fewer community businesses and a shrinking tax base that has forced 16 rural districts to hold school four days per week because they cannot afford to stay open for five days, Webber said.


“There are a lot of counties, particularly in southwest Missouri and southeast Missouri, where the poverty rate’s actually higher than it is anywhere else in the state,” he said, naming Pemiscot and others where the rate tops 25 percent.


In the 1980s, Missouri had about 10,000 hog farms, a number that has plummeted by more than 90 percent to around 600 hog farms today, he said.


“Each of these family-owned hog farms is a small wealth-creator,” Webber said, that supports the tax base, including schools and hospitals, and supports community businesses. “As we lose those family farms, we lose local businesses, we lose schools and then, ultimately, we start losing people.”


Mike Decker, Carrollton, said farmers around Princeton, Missouri, during the junk bond era, started Premium Standard with 10,000 sows and grew to 160,000, with three feed dealers in the community.


“What’s happened in Princeton is there’s not a feed dealer left – zero,” he said. “There’s not a person, probably within driving distance of Princeton, who raises pigs anymore.”


Decker said he recognized early on what behemoth agriculture operations would do to small producers.


“This is totally going to destroy rural America and rural people,” he said, adding he has seen giant hog operations. “A lot of people tell me, oh, they can do it so much more efficiently than the individual producer. That’s B.S. Don’t ever think they can do it more efficiently, and don’t ever think they can do it better. Individuals in this area raised hogs dramatically better than anything that those people ever did.”


Webber said Missouri state policies let multi-national agri-business conglomerates siphon wealth from rural areas.


“They’re using their monopoly power to bully and to intimidate family farmers and smaller operations, to manipulate prices, to manipulate the markets to be able to extract that wealth for themselves,” he said...