THE VANISHING AMERICAN
November 27, 2010
When I was growing up on the farm, there were very few farm families that didn’t have a few chickens, a few hogs, a few cows and maybe some sheep, ducks or geese. We grew most of our vegetables and all the feed for our livestock and poultry. The typical farmer was completely self sufficient. The chickens and eggs paid for the food items that were not grown at home: flour – bananas – coffee – sugar – salt. The hogs and cattle made the farm mortgage payments and paid for other farm expenses and living expenses. In the late 1940s, the Colleges of Agriculture at the Land Grant Universities began teaching the younger generation of “agriculturalists” that farmers must become more efficient – get bigger – get better – concentrate on expanding production.
The little two plow tractors were replaced with larger models, neighbors bought out the farm next door, the beef herds grew and farmers began buying their milk and eggs at the grocery store. The small flocks of 100 laying hens were no longer, and only a few farmers put up laying houses that housed thousands of birds. Then – Corporate agriculture entered the picture, building “processing plants” and feed mills. It wasn’t long until Purina, Tyson, Cargill, and a handful of other corporations, had complete control of the poultry and egg industry. There was no longer a free market and poultry farmers became “serfs” on their own land. Learning from their own experiences in the poultry industry, these same corporations began expanding into hog production. It didn’t take but a few years and pork production had gone the way of the poultry farms.
Since 1980, 32% of the nation’s sheep producers, 41% of the beef producers, 81% of the dairy producers and 91% of the hog producers have been forced out of business. This consolidation in agriculture has caused a high percentage of our farmers to find other employment. These multinational companies don’t do business locally. The remaining hog and poultry farmers are contracted to the intergraders, which ship in their input items from far-away places. They don’t use local banks, local veterinarians, local feed mills or local anything. Small farming communities all across the nation are disappearing. Local stores have closed and the few farmers left on the land must drive many miles to shop at the nearest Wal-Mart.
This concentration that moved farmers off the land, also closed the stores and shops on Main Street. Today, Wal-Mart’s influence has changed America. The packers and processors that control the livestock and poultry industries are now being controlled by Wal-Mart. Using its influence over the packers and processors, Wal-Mart dictates what it will pay for the products and also sets the price the consumer must pay at the retail level. Competition at both the retail and wholesale level has practically disappeared. Wal-Mart has more retail grocery sales than its next three largest competitors combined – Kroger, Safeway and SUPERVALU.
Caught in the price squeeze that determines profits are the farmers and ranchers who are at the bottom of the food producing chain. Wal-Mart demands lower prices from its suppliers, who then demand lower prices from the producers on the land. In 1990 the retailer kept 33 cents out of every dollar spent on beef. Today they keep 49 cents. In 1990 the retailer kept 45 cents of each dollar spent on pork, today that figure has grown to 61 cents. This difference is taken off the price the farmer or rancher receives.
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The CEOs of these multinational corporations only look at the bottom line of the balance sheet. It’s all about profit. Would it make these global companies any difference if all of America’s farmers were no longer producing? Not really! Smithfield is now the largest pork producer in the world. Smithfield was instrumental in moving the hog industry from Iowa to North Carolina. North Carolina has a seaport where big ships can unload grain grown in South America, purchased cheaper than a farmer in Iowa can grow it. Today we import 20% of our beef and from 60—70% of fruits and vegetables. Our largest packing plant is owned by a Brazilian company and some of our largest banks are dealing in Chinese currency on international trades.
The American farmer, like the American manufacturer, has become the VANISHING AMERICAN.
� 2010 Derry Brownfield - All Rights Reserved