Obama finds support for limiting farm program payments
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama held a rural summit at a high school in Tama, Iowa Friday. He found a lot of ideas and a few disagreements among farmers, but many of the 300 supporters and farm group leaders seem to back his support for limiting farm program payments.
Obama repeated his support for a $250,000 firm cap on commodity program payments, "so that we spend fewer resources subsidizing corporate megafarms," he told the crowd. Instead, he'd like to use some of the savings from limiting payments for increased spending on soil conservation and nutrition programs.
Earlier in the day Obama stopped in on a breakout group of about 30 that was debating farm policy and voting on goals scribbled on sheets of paper tacked to the school library wall. Stronger payment limits and better conservation already topped the list.
"I can tell we're in the middle of a good conversation and I don't want to interrupt it," Obama said as he entered the room to the click of shutters from the campaign press corps.
But Obama did get an earful.
Chuck Hassebrook, who heads the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska, but was attending the meeting on his own, told Obama that capping payments "is one of the few ways we could actually save money and make things work better for family farms." That's because payments to large farms have given them an unfair advantage over smaller ones, he said.
George Naylor, A Churdan, Iowa farmer who is president of the National Family Farm Coalition, disagreed.
"It distracts people from the key issue of what we get for our products," he said, Government support for better prices "depends on taking our farm economy out of a global farm economy," he said.
Doug Thompson, a farmer from Kanawha, Iowa, said he's getting prices for his crops that he has dreamed of all his life and doesn't consider low prices a major issue. Thompson has been an advocate of more support for beginning farmers.
'THE LAND IS NEXT'
Kevin Miskell, a Stanhope, Iowa farmer who is vice president of Iowa Farmers Union, told Obama that the biggest problem facing agriculture is decreasing competition and poor enforcement of antitrust laws. With the cost of raising corn at $400 an acre for inputs, "you cannot subsidize that to profitability," he said.
Miskell said that large companies already have pushed farmers out of control of poultry, pork and cattle production in the U.S. "The land is next," he said. "By the next farm bill, the family farmer will not exist unless we enforce the laws of this country."
Obama asked the group if new markets are helping counteract some of those trends. "How does changing consumer tastes and organic farming affect what we're talking about?" he asked.
He was told that meatpacking regulations that large producers can afford make it difficult for small producers to sell directly to consumers.
Paul Willis, a Thornton, Iowa hog producer who manages Niman Ranch Pork Company, told Obama that the farm bill needs to be written so that it doesn't give an advantage to large farms.