The next time you take a bite out of a sandwich, or pour milk on your cereal, or munch on an apple, or eat anything that you haven’t grown yourself, thank a farmer. Farmers are responsible for the majority of the food that we eat, the food that we need to survive. Farming has been a vital occupation since man stopped depending solely on hunting and gathering. Because our nation has been blessed with an abundance of arable land, we have never been dependent on another nation for food, and in fact, we export food to other nations. Most of us take for granted that there will always be food at the grocery store for us to buy, but how often do we stop to think where that food comes from and whose livelihood we are supporting when we buy it.
Farming was once a very common occupation – shortly after the Civil War, almost half the population worked in agriculture. Now, less than 2% of the population grows our food. Yet many of our farmers are struggling to support themselves by farming. There are many problems affecting our farmers, some of which our government is creating or ignoring – climate change, budget cuts, trade negotiations, loss of regulation, loss of net neutrality – to name just a few.
How does the loss of net neutrality affect farmers you may wonder? Farmers depend on the internet for obvious things like weather forecasting which is vital to working in the field. Trump’s Department of Agriculture has now decided to deliver new farm bill programs online, meaning farmers need the internet more than ever to be well-informed and access government services. Currently, only 8% of American farms are connected by fiber to the internet because the rural internet business is not lucrative for providers. The other 63% of farmers who are online have less reliable connections through satellite or phone lines. With the loss of net neutrality, the costs of rural internet connections is only going to go up for our farmers.
Seed prices for farmers are going to go up because Trump’s Administration approved a mega-merger between seed companies which reduces the competition for seeds. Monopolies in the fertilizer business also lead to higher costs. A delay by Trump enacting rules that were created to protect farmers from unfair contracting and marketing practices also shows his emphasis on pleasing big business as he hurts smaller businesses, like family farms. All this leads to higher food costs for all Americans.
Mega farms have been replacing the family farm for years, as farming has become more of a corporate business. Trump’s trade negotiations focus on these corporate farms, not the smaller family farms that really need the help. Farm policies need to put farmers and their communities ahead of corporate needs. We need family farms, if for no other reason than to give us a choice. As noted in the Kansas City Star by Joe Maxwell and Andy Green, “Monopolies have little incentive to compete and invest for the future, and instead buy competitors out of the market, negotiate down the wages and pay of their workers and suppliers — including family farmers — and provide big pay packages to executives and shareholders.”
The climate crisis is already affecting Illinois farmers as we experience wetter springs and drier summers. Illinois farmers are having to adjust their planting schedules or adapt to different crops. Not only does Trump deny the climate crisis and do nothing to reverse it, he is also cutting the budget for the USDA, closing local offices which administer the Farm Service Agency for farmers. Representative Shimkus, who is supposed to represent a mostly rural district, backs Trump all the way on this.
Farming is a stressful occupation. Much of it is weather dependent which farmers cannot control. Falling prices, some brought on by over-production, contributed to a 50% decline in farm income since 2013. It is no wonder that right now, agricultural workers commit suicide at a greater rate than any other occupation in the United States.
In so many ways Trump and his yes-men like Shimkus are passing over the American family farmer in favor of corporations. Think about that when you eat your next meal. America’s democracy works when our voices are heard. Shimkus doesn’t act in the interest of his constituents. Carl Spoerer will.