Big Ag Circles the Wagons Against Activists


When voices for a sustainable food system are loud enough to be seen as threats, they can pat themselves on the back, at least a little. Formation of the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) shows some nervous reaction in the big-agriculture ranks. Major farm associations are circling the wagons to fight off critics. The alliance’s introductory video calls for farmers and ranchers to come together: “Let’s change the perception of modern farming and ranching from negative to one that inspires a nation.”

Behind the the calls for “a collective voice” are some familiar faces. The major commodity associations are there, such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Sheep Industry, United Egg Producers, U.S. Grain Council, Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the Dairy Farmers of America. John Deere and DuPont have signed onto the Premier Partner Advisory Group.

American Farm Bureau (AFB) president Bob Stallman is one of the founding members. In a speech he gave at the AFB convention in January 2010, he said, “A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule. The time has come to face our opponents with a new attitude. The days of their elitist power grabs are over.”

The “elitist power grabs” he was referring to were such pesky things as climate legislation. In the July 25, 2011, FB News (AFB’s newspaper), other nuisances were named, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Is USFRA a Threat to Small Farmers and Activists?

In reporting on the new group, the Financial Times spoke with three people USFRA would see as among production agriculture’s critics: Mark Kastel of The Cornucopia Institute, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms and Kathy Ozer of the National Family Farm Coalition. All are proponents of sustainable farming. None is included in the USFRA’s plans to “lead the dialogue and answer Americans’ questions about how we raise our food—while being stewards of the environment, responsibly caring for our animals and maintaining strong business and communities.”

While Ozer was simply quoted as saying people care about how their food is produced and are asking questions, the other two had more skeptical comments. Salatin called the USFRA campaign “laughable.” Kastel said production agriculture “is frightened about the marketplace and concerned about more regulatory constraint. They are afraid the ugly stories out there are tarnishing their reputation.”

The Financial Times pegs USFRA’s marketing campaign at some $30 million a year, but  it is too early to tell how successful it will be. Farmers and ranchers tend to be an independent lot. What unifies the member groups at this point is a sense of being under siege because of increasing concerns about our global food system.

What is likely to divide them, from each other and their industry partners, are some of the issues that cannot be swept away with a marketing campaign. The spread of superweeds, overuse of antibiotics, loss of soil and soil quality and the effects of exposure to agricultural chemicals are only four on a growing list of serious problems related to our current model of industrial agriculture.

The family farmers I’ve known over the years, from a woman on Vancouver Island who sold a few thousand dollars of organic vegetables each year to a cattleman in Texas whose ranch was a day’s drive from one side to the other, work hard and and are proud of the food they produce. As climate change, drought, environmental degradation, rising costs and burgeoning population take their toll, farmers and ranchers of all stripes will find they have more in common with each other than with the corporations who have sold us an unsustainable vision. We have a planetary debt to pay, and Mother Nature is calling on us to resolve it.

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Photo from USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Terry V.
Terry V.3 years ago

A Little Good News

Glenda L.
Glenda L.3 years ago

I think the state of our food supply is going to get worse before it gets better, to the point that even those with their head buried in the chemically laden sand will have to admit how badly it's gone wrong. Hopefully it will still be fixable by then.

Kathy Harbert
Kathy Harbert4 years ago

I think conversation is good. Many of those organizations listed in the article are comprised of small family farms, not corporate farms.... the small family farms (whether it is 40 acres or 40,000 acres) are the ones that NEED to band together into commodity organizations in order to have a voice. They don't like the big corporate farms either, yet they are continually lumped into the same "evil empire". Education and conversation IS what is needed here. Most people that the small farmers feed in this world have no idea (and no appreciation for) what it takes to bring a single carrot or glass of milk to their table

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle4 years ago

It makes me happy if they are scared enough to form an organization and spend that kind of money to counter our demands. That means that we've been having an effect on them. I don't know if USFRA is a threat to us, as the question asks, or we to them?

Bill K.
Bill K.4 years ago

if Monsanto wants to own everything we put in our mouths maybe it's time to return that food to them after it comes out our other end

Abbe A.
Azaima A.4 years ago

We have to be vigilant or Monsanto will own whatever we put into our mouths.

Jerry t.
Jerold t.4 years ago

AG! GACK! (Genetically Accelerated Crap Kraft).
So how come when I go to a 5 acre farmer, a potato costs a nickle. When I go to the supermarket a potato costs a dollar? And it's shipped in from Hawaii? Dole potatoes, Jolly Gay Giant, Shitquito. I might not have a garden, but I have a windowsill. I grow my own, even in an apartment.
We have no excuse for supporting this monster. Eating less is healthy anyway. Especially meat.
Steal it and sell it back to them is the elitist corporate motto. I remember the million tractor march at Nixon's Whitehouse. I wonder why they call it the Whitehouse since black slaves built it? Oh, I digress! Maybe GMO pollen floated past my garden and contaminated my bean sprouts. Later guys, I have to gack now.

Hope S.
Hope Sellers4 years ago

"The days of their elitist power grabs are over.”

Another example of projecting on others your own agenda. The land was in better shape when there were many small farms. And the animals and fowl were certainly treated better.

James S.
James S.4 years ago

And I mean no offense for the label, "brainwashed" - it was only two years ago that I freed myself from that horrible grip. As someone who is generally afraid of change and moving out of comfort zones, I have to say - it's easy being vegan. Take it slow if you need to. Watch how many wonderful developments occur.

James S.
James S.4 years ago

What a joke. They will say anything and do anything to mask their hideous, torture for profit from the brainwashed masses.