Pressing for solutions to current farm crisis by U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle Three South Dakota producers and business people recently accompanied me to the White House to tell officials there just how devastating the current farm price collapse is for producers and rural communities across the country. That meeting � attended by the president and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman � allowed us to underscore just how serious this crisis has become and how urgent it is for us to find solutions.
Everyone at the meeting agreed that there is a crisis in farm country. The current price collapse for hog producers and for other commodities is not merely a result of a downturn in the business cycle, but rather, it is a symptom of much larger problems in agriculture. The rapid changes in the economic structure of the industry are driving thousands of farmers and ranchers out of business, and devastating the economy of rural communities across the country.
Some have argued that the alarming increase in the number of producers going out of business is a "necessary evil" for the long-term efficiency and prosperity of the agriculture industry. I have no time for this argument. When I'm home, I see the devastation � in both economic and personal terms � that this price collapse is causing even for our most efficient producers. In short, this crisis is threatening the entire economy of South Dakota and undermining the economic and social fabric of rural America.
The problems leading to the current low prices run from increasing concentration across all sectors of the agriculture industry, to trade inequities, to the lack of a safety net to help farmers survive downturns.
I arranged the White House meeting because the president and other key administration officials really need to hear firsthand from the producers and business people who have been most affected by the price collapse. Producers were able to discuss the steps we must take immediately to protect the livelihood of our producers and the future of rural America. Effective action will require the combination efforts of both Congress and the Administration to give producers the tools they need to deal with this crisis.
Sending the message
That is also the message we sent to Congress at a recent special Senate hearing on farm prices. The hearing was set one day before Congress reconvened this month in order to put agriculture high on the Congressional agenda for the coming year.
The same three South Dakotans who attended the White House meeting with me also testified at this hearing and made a powerful case that urgent action is needed.
Congress is beginning to understand that the implications extend beyond rural America to people in urban areas. If we lose all of our small producers, it will have long-term effects on consumers across the country who may see higher food prices at the supermarket, changes in food safety and a variety of other uncertainties.
Acting to address
In the new Congress, I will press to help the livestock industry by reintroducing my legislation to require that the prices that large meat packing companies pay for beef, hogs and sheep are made public. I will also work for legislation requiring country-of-origin meat labeling, limits on the use of USDA's quality grade stamp, and will press to get better enforcement of laws prohibiting anti-competitive practices by the meat packing industry.
I also want to restore the farm safety net by increasing the resources available to help producers survive market downturns over which they have no control. And I will continue to press to assist producers' efforts to find new markets through value-added agriculture.
The Administration has also taken some important steps to reduce the stress on our producers in recent weeks, and I applaud these efforts.
Vice President Gore � just a few days after our White House meeting � announced that $50 million will be made available in direct cash payments to hog producers to help them cope with the devastatingly low hog prices.
USDA has already stepped up its purchase of pork products to help raise market prices and has urged other federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to do the same thing.
In addition, I will keep the pressure on our trade negotiators to do everything they can to ensure that our producers are not hurt by unfair trade practices from Canada, Mexico and other nations around the world.
I am pleased with the interest that the Administration and members of Congress have shown so far in taking prompt and meaningful action to address the current farm crisis. But our work is far from over.
The new Congress and the Administration must continue to do whatever they can do to help producers cope with the current price collapse and to enact policies to return prosperity to farming and ranching and the economy of rural America.