Thursday, July 28, 2005

Farmers are split over CAFTA

According to the US Trade Representative:
The National Farmers Union opposes the agreement, stating that CAFTA "offers few benefits" to U.S. farmers and "will adversely impact domestic producers of sugar, fruit, vegetable, dairy and other commodities." In its preliminary assessment, this farm organization claimed that CAFTA does not address exchange rate issues, labor and environmental standards, and tariffs.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) backs CAFTA, stating that U.S. agriculture has much to gain. According to its economic analysis of the agricultural provisions, the AFBF projects that CAFTA will result in an estimated $945 million increase in U.S. agricultural exports to the five Central American countries when fully implemented in 20 years. The analysis acknowledges the U.S. sugar industry will experience costs as a result of the increased access to the domestic sugar market granted these countries -- an estimated $73 million by year 20.
I don't know much about these groups, so I don't know if this reflects differences in membership. In general, I'd expect large agribusiness to favor CAFTA and smaller farmers to oppose. Does anyone have some background on these groups in regard to that split?

I can also imagine a split between niche farmers and staple farmers. Oddball vegetable farmers or organic farmers may oppose cheaper produce in general.

A little Googling turns up this article. I'll grant that it has a partisan slant, and I don't know that it isn't being selective. Still, these are interesting factoids.

In recent years, AFBF and its state affiliates have developed cozy alliances with other conservative political groups, including many of the so-called wise-use organizations. AFBF works closely with more than a dozen of these groups, including several coalitions that are seeking to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act, roll back wetlands protections, lower clean air and water standards and thwart efforts to reduce global warming.

Although these issues may have some bearing on agriculture, AFBF also uses its considerable clout to push policies that have no apparent connection to farming. For example, the Montana Farm Bureau (MTFB) lobbied to require that schools teach creationism on an equal basis with evolution. MTFB also wanted the state to ship convicted criminals to Mexico and promoted a resolution urging the United States to withdraw from the United Nations. AFBF's 1998 policy book calls for repeal of the nation's basic civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965

[The Texas Farm Bureau] pushed for repeal of the federal minimum wage and wanted the government to cut food stamps for poor families whose children also got free lunches at school. When the Texas Agriculture Department adopted regulations to prevent growers from spraying pesticides while farm workers were in the fields, TXFB nearly succeeded in getting the state legislature to revoke those rules. …

In North Carolina in 1983, the Farm Bureau opposed a proposal for increased penalties against individuals who hold workers in involuntary servitude - in other words, people who keep slaves. Ten people had been convicted on slavery charges in North Carolina during the previous three years. And in Ohio, the Farm Bureau worked to retain a National Labor Relations Act exemption for large corporate farms. Because of this exemption, workers at egg farms with millions of laying hens have no protection from firing or harassment by their bosses if they try to organize labor unions.

It should come as no surprise that the Farm Bureau defends big agribusiness. The Farm Bureau itself is in big agribusiness. Growmark, a Farm Bureau-controlled grain-marketing cooperative, chalked up $1.57 billion in sales last year. In 1985, Growmark merged its grain terminal operations with agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). ADM took over management of the terminals, and Growmark received ADM stock in exchange. Other Farm Bureau companies own stock in big agribusiness. And if those big agribusinesses prosper, Farm Bureau affiliate stock portfolios stand to reap some of the benefits.
I don't know nearly as much as I should about the economics of modern agriculture. My grandfather got out of dairy farming long ago, before the rise of agribusiness as it now stands. Anyone who wants to put together a quick primer on how a bushel of wheat gets from a locally owned farm and into a loaf of bread on the shelf, let me know. I'd love to publish it here.