By ADAM RITSCHER
As an example of the deepening crisis affecting small farmers across the country, the federal Farm Service Agency released a report this month predicting that nearly 6500 farmers were likely to lose their farms this coming year in Minnesota alone.
That number represents almost 10 percent of small farmers in the state, and is six times the average number of farmers that have been forced to give up their land each year in the last decade.
In some areas of Minnesota, such as the northwestern part of the state, 11 percent of the farmers are likely to be forced out of business, and already nearly one-fifth of the region’s cropland is being left unplanted by desperate farmers who’ve given up any hope of getting anything back financially from planting.
State officials have responded by saying they are considering asking president Clinton for a disaster declaration that would allow sinking farmers to apply for low-interest federal loans.
Such an act would be unprecedented, since up until now such declarations have been used only in response to natural disasters, whereas this one would be in response to an economic crisis.
State director of the Farm Service Agency Tracy Beckman said at a press conference, “I’m not sure we’ve ever been to a point like this. We’re losing a generation of farmers, basically.” However, as true as this is, at this point, even if Clinton does issue a disaster declaration, according to Beckman, “It’s not going to save anyone.”
The crisis facing Minnesota farmers is the result of a dramatic drop in the price of farm commodities. Prices have fallen by $1.2 billion since 1996 in this state. Part of the cause of this drop has been the collapse of the “Asian Tigers,” which formerly provided markets for U.S. farm goods.
Hearings that are being held across the state have also been yielding some interesting facts about how capitalist agriculture works today in America.
Paul Sobocinski, a farmer from Wabasso, pointed out how the giant agribusiness corporations are “cheating us every day,” and instead of being hurt by this depression, are instead profiting from it.
This illustrates the growing divide taking place in rural America between small working farmers, who receive an estimated $2.53 an hour for the labor they put into their farms, and the agribusiness giants who seem to grow fatter by the hour.
What farmers urgently need today, in the Midwest and nationwide, is a militant campaign aimed at the government and the big agribusiness giants that they represent, demanding a moratorium on all farm foreclosures, as well as a guaranteed minimum price for their crops and livestock that more than covers the cost of production and allows farmers to enter the coming year debt free.
And when state and federal officials balk about how there’s no money in the budget for such a “radical” program, point them to Archer-Daniel-Midlands and the other corporate giants that for way too long have been getting rich off the sweat of small farmers.