Demonstrate that structure of agriculture counts

Demonstrate that structure of agriculture counts by Chuck Hassebrook The inclusion of mandatory livestock price reporting language in the emergency farm appropriation that passed in October is a testament to an engaged citizenry.

Farmers organized huge rallies, flooded their Congressional representatives with phone calls, and kept the issue in the news media. It was no accident that Representative Tom Latham finally stepped up and paved the way for passage. His Northwest Iowa district was a hot bed of organizing on the issue.

Yet, it is troubling that it takes such an extraordinary effort to pass such common sense legislation.

More troubling is that the emergency legislation crippled the farm program payment limitation in spite of hundreds of phone calls from concerned citizens. Congress opened the U.S. Treasury even further to subsidize mega operations to squeeze family farms out of business.

The reason for the opposite outcomes is pretty simple. On mandatory price reporting, it was clear that failure to act could cost someone an election.

That was not the case on the payment limitations. It was easier to go along with large farm interests from the South and the commodity groups, who have always protected the largest producers.

Let's hope there will come a day when there are enough true leaders willing to rise above politics to seek a future for family farms and rural communities, irrespective of the political consequences.

But until then, rural people must demonstrate that the "structure of agriculture" counts in determining who they elect. It is not urban or suburban representatives that have shaped agricultural policy, but rather rural representatives.

When they ask for our votes, we should ask what kind of agriculture they support. The structure issue � the future of family farming and ranching and rural communities � must be the critical factor in who wins and loses elections in agricultural districts.

The first chance is the 2000 Congressional races. We need to make them count.

Chuck Hassebrook is program director of the Center for Rural Affairs in Walthill, NE. Established in 1973, the Center is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small business, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic and environmental issues.

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