2018 Advocacy & Issues Report

Farm Aid advocates for change in the food and farm system and builds the grassroots power needed to advance transformative change. In order to do this, we:

  • Invest in grassroots leaders who work to change the food and farm system;
  • Partner with family farmers and grassroots organizations to build power;
  • Convene strategic meetings, conferences, and events that strengthen our movement;
  • Utilize Farm Aid’s unique voice and reach to inform the public;
  • Elevate the voices and stories of family farmers, leaders and partner organizations;
  • Engage the public in advocacy campaigns on key policy issues to leverage big changes; and
  • Influence policymakers, business leaders and other key influencers to support family farmers.

With a deepening farm crisis in rural America, in 2018 Farm Aid devoted expanded time and effort to elevating the profile of the crisis and its root causes, as well as the resulting rise in stress and mental health challenges among farmers. We launched our brand new Farm Bill Hub to engage our audience in the development of the 2018 Farm Bill, and continued important work around mega-mergers in the seed industry, fighting for fair trade principles in the midst of a trade war prompted by the Trump Administration, and much more.

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Major Initiatives
Statements
Collaboratives & Coalitions
Sign-Ons


Major Initiatives


Farm Crisis

farmer in field with tractor in shadow

Photo via flickr user EYE DJ (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Since 2013, America’s farmers and ranchers have weathered a 50 percent drop in net farm income, the largest three-year drop since the start of the Great Depression. The strain in today’s farm economy is no accident; it’s the result of policies designed to enrich corporations at the expense of farmers and ranchers. If the American family farmer is to survive, farm policy needs a massive shift in direction – one that delivers fair prices to farmers that allow them to make a living.

Issue Communications

Earned media: The farm crisis and its impact on mental health and wellbeing among farmers, farm families and rural community members was a major communications priority in 2018. Notable interviews and press mentions included:

FarmYard Briefing at Farm Aid 2018: At each Farm Aid festival, we host a series of briefings that feature concert artists and farmers who come together to discuss pressing issues in food and agriculture. In a dynamic panel hosted by Chef Michel Nischan, the panel, including Micah Nelson (Particle Kid), Tom and Alana Truelove of Truelove Farms in Connecticut, Tim Velde from Minnesota Farmers Union, and Joe Schroeder, Farm Aid’s Farm Advocate, explored the pressing topic of farmer stress and how we can better support the people who grow our food.

Fact Sheet: Farm Aid released Why Farmers Face Unique Threats from Stress to highlight the unique stressors felt by farmers and solutions to support them.

Advocacy

Farmer and Rancher Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN): This important program intending to deal with the rising levels of stress and mental health concerns in farm country was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, but never received the funding it so desperately needed. Farm Aid joined a coalition of organizations advocating for FRSAN’s inclusion in the 2018 Farm Bill and adequate funding. The work was to great success – the 2018 Farm Bill makes important improvements to the program, such as explicitly providing access to tribal communities – and authorizes up to $10 million each year until 2023. In 2019, we will be working hard to make sure those dollars end up in the right hands – with the network of service providers we depend on to help farmers in crisis navigate their options and receive the support they deserve. Partners on this effort included National Farmers Union, Farmers Legal Action Group, RAFI-USA, National Young Farmers Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Grange, National Rural Health Association, National Corn Growers Association, Farmer Veteran Coalition, and several others.

Mona Lee Brock Ceremony: The Oklahoma House of Representatives recognized Oklahoma farm advocate Mona Lee Brock for her work on behalf of family farmers in May. Prior to the citation ceremony on the floor of the House, the Rural Caucus of both the Oklahoma House and Senate viewed Homeplace Under Fire, Farm Aid’s documentary film about farm advocates, including Mona Lee Brock, who rose up from the Farm Crisis of the 1980s to help farmers fight for their farms. Young elected officials commented that they did not have a full understanding of the impact of the Farm Crisis until viewing the film and were grateful to be made aware that farmers face similar challenges today.

On the Road to Resilience

Preceding Farm Aid 2018, we hosted On the Road to Resilience: Moving from Individual Crisis to Collective Power in Hartford, CT, to inspire our strength to persevere and explore strategies for resilience. The event was attended by over 120 people and featured speakers, sessions and activities that call upon our compassion and ingenuity in tough times


Dairy Crisis

Since 1970, the number of American dairy farms has dropped by more than 93 percent, from more than 640,000 to around 40,000 today. In an industry dominated by corporate interests, family farms are constantly at risk of going under. A consistent, severe slump in milk prices in recent years has pushed many dairy farm businesses beyond the point of survival. In the last year, there’s been a 3 percent drop in the number of dairy farms, with the future of those remaining increasingly uncertain.

Issue Communications

Fact Sheet: The dramatic dip in milk prices over the last several years prompted Farm Aid to release Dairy: Family Farmers in Crisis, highlighting the financial strain felt by farm families in the dairy sector, and to lift up the root causes of the crisis and solutions that can address it.

Dairy Together

In August, Farm Aid supported Wisconsin Farmers Union as they organized a bus trip to Albany, NY, taking dairy farmers, advocates and media to an open meeting held by Agri-Mark dairy cooperative to review plans to address the dairy price crisis. The bus had 20 Wisconsin riders and stopped to pick up 3 riders from Michigan and 1 in Ohio. The group made its presence known at the Albany meeting with matching “Pull Together” t-shirts and signs. The efforts garnered front-page coverage on all three of the main Wisconsin statewide farm newspapers, the Wisconsin State Farmer, Country Today, and Agri-View, as well as other news outlets. Farm Aid is supporting Dairy Together’s continued efforts to advance supply management programs.

 

Advocacy

In April, Farm Aid joined 53 organizations in a letter to Congress and to Secretary Sonny Perdue calling for immediate action to address the dairy crisis in rural America, including: an immediate floor price of $20/cwt for milk; a milk product purchasing initiative to remove surplus dairy from the market; a moratorium on Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding and direct and guaranteed loans for dairy CAFOs; hearings on the milk pricing formula and the dairy crisis; and a supply management program to stabilize milk production.

Forgotten Farms

Prior to Farm Aid 2018, we hosted a screening of Forgotten Farms in Hartford, CT, followed by a panel discussion on the nature of the dairy crisis, what’s at stake in the Northeast as more dairy farmers go out of business, and how people are rallying for long-term solutions. Panelists included Sarah Gardner, Forgotten Farms producer, Bonnie Burr, UConn-Extension and Patty Edelberg, National Farmers Union.


2018 Farm Bill

The Farm Bill affects everyone who eats, sells, buys or grows food. At its origin, it was designed to ensure everyone had enough to eat, farmers earned a living, and that our soil and water stayed healthy. At a time when U.S. farm income is significantly depressed, the shape of the Farm Bill is critical. As the legislative path for the 2018 Farm Bill unfolded, Farm Aid engaged our audience in opportunities to promote a better farm bill.

The Farm Bill Hub

In 2018, we created the Farm Bill Hub to help the Farm Aid audience navigate this big, complicated, expensive, and most important legislation for farmers, rural residents and all of us who eat. Features include:

  • Farm Bill 101: Discover the past, present and future of this enormous and essential legislation affecting every farmer and eater in the U.S.
  • Farm Bill Champions: Resources from partner organizations across the country who work to engage farmers and eaters in winning a better farm bill.
  • Farm Bill Quiz: Test your knowledge with this short, fun quiz and enter to win a Farm Aid t-shirt!
  • Farm Aid’s Take: Explore the most important issues addressed in 2018 Farm Bill and Farm Aid’s take on how the House and Senate versions measure up.
  • The Latest Updates on the 2018 Farm Bill: Follow the Farm Bill’s path through Congress with key updates on the bill.

Take Action with Farm Aid

Farm Aid engaged our audience over our Take Action with Farm Aid platform during key moments in the 2018 Farm Bill process, including:

  • In May, we activated our list to urge Congress to vote NO on H.R. 2, the House version of the 2018 Farm Bill, which amounted to a huge payout for corporate agricultural interests. With a tight turnaround, the action activated 1,159 individuals and reached 354 members of Congress. The bill failed to pass the floor by a vote of 213-198.
  • In September, we urged the Farm Bill conference committee to pass a farm bill that invests in diverse farming systems, protects our soil and water, invests in rural development, supports farmers in crisis, and ensures food access and dignity for rural and urban families, seniors and disabled Americans. 377 individuals sent 1,146 messages to 307 members of Congress.

Take Action with Farm Aid at Farm Aid 2018

On September 22nd our Take Action with Farm Aid booth at Farm Aid 2018 invited festivalgoers to express their artistic side while fulfilling their civic duty. Participants decorated postcards urging Congress to maintain key farm bill programs on value-added agriculture, organic agriculture, beginning farmers, rural economies, farmers of color, local food systems, and more – all of which faced elimination when the 2014 Farm Bill expired on September 30th. For this action, we joined forces with National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, who delivered the postcards to Capitol Hill the following week.

Postcards filled out by Farm Aid 2018 festivalgoers being delivered on Capitol Hill


Seed Rights & Seed Sustainability

GMO seeds

Photo: USDA Flickr

Twenty years ago, the first genetically modified seeds hit the market. Long before most people became concerned about GMOs in their food, farmers were facing urgent questions about this new technology. Farm Aid’s work on GMOs began in response to these concerns and has expanded dramatically, with a top concern being rapid consolidation and the rise in corporate power in the seed sector. Following two mega-mergers in the sector in 2017, combating the potential Bayer-Monsanto merger was a top priority in 2018, as the new company would be the world’s largest vegetable seed and cottonseed company, manufacturer and seller of herbicides, and owner of GMO traits.

Bayer-Monsanto Merger

Attorneys General DOJ Investigation: Throughout 2017 and into 2018, Farm Aid joined an effort led by Friends of the Earth to urge state attorney general (AG) offices to join an active DOJ investigation of the Bayer-Monsanto merger and publicize their involvement. In mid-December 2017, we joined other Massachusetts-based farm organizations on a call with AG Maura Healey’s office to urge engagement in the investigation, as well as Vermont organizations to speak to AG George Jespen. In 2018, Farm Aid joined conversations with the Connecticut and Maine AGs.

Farmer Poll: Farm Aid joined a coalition of farm groups in fielding a poll of nearly 1,000 farmers across America to examine their views of the pending Bayer-Monsanto merger. The poll, released in March, indicated that farmers overwhelmingly oppose the merger. Farm Aid Communications Director Jennifer Fahy was quoted in a joint press release stating:

“The chemical-intensive agriculture these corporations promote has given rise to superweeds and a reliance on even more potent, and potentially dangerous, chemicals. The proposed merger of Monsanto and Bayer further strengthens their ability to threaten the development of a sustainable food system that supports independent family farmers and rural economies, meets the growing demand of concerned eaters, and protects our soil and water. If we care about our food and our planet, the time to enforce antitrust laws is now!”

DOJ Merger Action: In March, Farm Aid activated 1,048 individuals to send letters to Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim strongly opposing the Bayer-Monsanto merger. Unfortunately, in late April word got out that the merger was likely to be approved. We joined a coalition of organizations to speak with top DOJ officials about the merger in May, to ensure they heard directly from communities who would be impacted by the decision.

DOJ Public Comments: Following its conditional approval of the merger, the DOJ opened a public comment period. In August, we helped lead a coalition of farming, consumer and environmental groups to deliver 97,325 public comments to the DOJ urging the agency to reject the merger and reverse its approval.


Trade

Trade agreements can pave a path for corporations to expand their control over our food system – further concentrating corporate power and contributing to the exploitation of family farmers, lower food safety standards, soil, air & water quality degradation, the collapse of local economies, forced migration of workers and the undermining of local food procurement efforts. 2018 proved to be a busy and dynamic year, as the Trump Administration sparked a renegotiation of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and instigated a trade war with China that rocked farm country.

Issue Communications

‘One Year In’ series: On the heels of the State of the Union, Farm Aid took stock of the Trump Administration’s impact on food and agriculture to date in the beginning of the year. The second installment of the series was One Year In: The Trump Administration on Trade & The Farm Bill. This piece explored the destabilizing impact of the administration’s trade policies on farmers, particularly in the absence of fair trade principles or of farmers themselves in trade negotiations.

Earned media:

  • Global trade can make or break American farmers: On March 21, The Hill published an op-ed from Farm Aid detailing how farm and trade policies encourage U.S. dairy farmers to produce as much as possible, leading to boom-and-bust cycles that drive small farms out of business and compel mid- and large-sized farms to keep getting bigger.
  • American Farmers are the Biggest Losers in Trump’s Unnecessary Trade War: On July 19, The Hill published an op-ed from Farm Aid detailing the unnecessary pain being felt by family farmers across the country due to the Trump Administration’s trade wars, and real steps the administration could take to advance fair trade for American farmers.
  • Trump’s $12 Billion Bailout Is a “Very Pricey Bandage Over a Deeper Wound”: by Dan Nosowitz for Modern Farmer on July 25. Farm Aid’s Advocacy & Farmer Services Director, Alicia Harvie, was quoted heavily in this piece exploring the newly announced bailout for farmers harmed by the trade wars:

    “We know for sure it won’t make farmers whole,” said Harvie, referencing an estimation that put the losses at $13 billion already.Harvie’s view of the situation paints it in a much larger picture than the past few months. “We’ve been caught in this mess over the last several decades that tells us export markets will save farmers in the absence of fair pricing policies like price supports and supply management policies,” she said. The issue is the predominance of free trade over fair trade, along with various decisions or lack thereof that allowed corporate agribusiness to consolidate into a mere few companies which control the entire process for farmers.”


Statements

Full-page Washington Post Ad on Organic Animal Welfare Rule: In April, Farm Aid was invited to sign on to a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to strongly opposing USDA’s proposal to eliminate the new organic standard on animal welfare, which was overwhelmingly supported by organic farmers, organic companies, humane animal care advocates, and consumers. The full-page ad, purchased by Organic Valley, ran in The Washington Post on April 9th, with a select group of national farm groups and organic brands urging the restoration of the organic animal welfare standard.

Washington Post Organic Standards Ad

Farm Aid Statement on CDC Retraction of Farmer Suicide Statistics: In June, based on a 30 percent increase during 2018 in calls to their farmer hotline and feedback from family farm partners around the country, Farm Aid issued a statement reaffirming its commitment to prioritize farmer stress, despite a retraction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of their finding that farmers and agricultural workers have the highest suicide rate in the country.

Farm Aid Statement on Inclusion of Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) in the Final Farm Bill: In December, following passage of the 2018 Farm Bill in both chambers of Congress, Farm Aid issued a statement praising the inclusion and full funding of the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN):

“…While the FRSAN doesn’t address the financial and legal stress caused by this historic farm crisis, it is an important first step to repairing the safety net for farmers and addressing the mental health consequences. Paying attention to the whole health of farmers is essential to guaranteeing a healthy farm and food system. As a population, farmers face some of the biggest challenges to accessing quality mental health care, including cultural barriers to asking for help, availability and accessibility of care, health insurance coverage and more…”


Collaboratives & Coalitions

Farmer rally

The 2000 Rally for Rural America brought 3,000 farmers to Washington, DC.

Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform (CCAR)

CCAR is a coalition of farmer and consumer organizations with shared concerns about the trends and effects of vertical integration on farmers and consumers. An essential part of CCAR’s work is to advocate for the establishment of fair contracting standards for livestock and poultry contracts to ensure that the integrator-producer relationship is a fair partnership, rather than a dictatorship. CCAR member organizations are Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias, Government Accountability Project, Farm Aid, National Farmers Union, Food & Water Watch, NSAC, R-CALF USA, and RAFI-USA. With the Trump Administration dealing a major blow to poultry growers as it withdrew the Farmer Fair Practices Rules, the coalition’s major work in 2018 included:

  • Opposing the steady flow of taxpayer dollars that prop up the contract poultry system through the Small Business Association (SBA) guaranteed loans program. Work included:
    • Raising the profile of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report questioning nearly $2 billion in SBA loans to poultry farmers;
    • Supporting Sen. Cory Booker’s legislation to require more transparency and oversight over SBA poultry loans;
    • Submitting testimony to the House Small Business Committee on SBA loans to poultry growers; and
    • Submitting comments to the SBA’s public comment period on its guaranteed loan program.
  • Supporting the Booker-Pocan moratorium bill on mega-mergers in the food and agribusiness sectors.
  • Pushing for critical reforms in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Seeds and Breeds for the 21st Century

This national network of non-profit, public, and private researchers, advocacy organizations, agricultural businesses, seed companies and individual farmers advocates for policies that support and advance classical public breeding research programs and germplasm infrastructure in order to protect agricultural genetic diversity and address long-term challenges like climate change and global food security. This group pushed for important improvements in the 2018 Farm Bill, including The Seeds for the Future Act (H.R. 5208), which would increase investment in the development of publicly available, farmer-ready cultivars.

A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal System

In 2015, Farm Aid joined this alliance to forge a deeper partnership with the American Postal Workers Union – a union with members in every zip code – to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services as a democratic right and advance more diverse financial service options for farmers and all of rural America. Continuing our partnership with the American Postal Workers Union, Farm Aid shared a new video as part of their U.S. Mail Not for Sale campaign opposing the corporate takeover of the U.S. Postal Service, as proposed by the Trump Administration.


2018 Sign-Ons

Farm Aid’s name lends credibility to efforts and helps amplify the farmer voice on issues. The simple inclusion of our name on sign-on letters, public comments and endorsements is a simple strategy to advance family farm agriculture.

January

  • Letter from 80 companies and organizations rejecting USDA’s proposal to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule and urging USDA to change its course of action and instead restore and make effective the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practice final rule.
  • Letter to Congress opposing the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (H.R. 4879/H.R. 3599) introduced by Rep. Steve King and the No Regulation Without Representation Act (H.R. 2887) introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, both attacking state and local control measures on agriculture and food safety.

February

  • Letter from food and farm organizations to members of Congress opposing Congressman Steve King’s H.R. 4879/3599 amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill.
  • Letter endorsing the inclusion of R. 4865
, the Crop Insurance Modernization Act, introduced by Rep. Nick Nolan into the 2018 Farm Bill.
  • Letter to Congress in support of continuing and fully funding the Food Insecurity and Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program in the 2018 Farm Bill.

March

  • Signed written testimony requested increased funding for public seed cultivar development in the FY2019 Appropriations as a member of the Seeds and Breeds for the 21 Century Coalition, sent to Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA, & Related Agencies.
  • Letter to the European Commission urging a rejection of the Bayer-Monsanto merger.
  • Letter to the Senate House and Agriculture Committees opposing the increased limits on USDA Direct and Guaranteed farm loans in the 2018 Farm Bill.

April

  • Letter to Congress and to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue calling for immediate action to address the dairy crisis in rural America.
  • Together with over 500 national, regional and local organizations, businesses and leaders, opposed H.R. 2, the House version of the 2018 Farm Bill.

May

  • Letter led by the Campaign for Family Farmers and the Environment to Congress to vote “no” on H.R. 2 because it would increase corporate concentration across agriculture and harm family farmers, rural communities and the environment.
  • Letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee urging the inclusion of equity principles in the 2018 Farm Bill to support all farmers and ranchers, as well as conservation, rural development and nutrition programs essential to communities, including full funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
  • Letter to Members of Congress in support of the Seeds for the Future Act (H.R. 5208/S. 2964), to secure diverse seed stocks for years to come.
  • Letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee from more than 140 organizations urging full support of organic agriculture in the Farm Bill and opposing any changes that would undermine the organic standards and the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

June

  • Letter to Congress opposing open ocean industrial finfish aquaculture – or CAFOs in the ocean.
  • Letter supporting S.741, the Opportunities for Fairness and Farming Act, a checkoff reform bill introduced as an amendment to the Farm Bill.
  • Letter to Senators supporting the commodity payment limitations and actively engaged in farming amendment offered by Senator Grassley.
  • Letter supporting two reform bills for livestock farmers as amendments to the 2018 Farm Bill: 1) Anti-Retaliation Amendment protecting poultry farmers for voicing their concerns about their contracts or for joining together in producer associations, and 2) Farmer Pay Transparency Amendment requiring companies to provide farmers with data used to determine their compensation.

July

  • Letter to Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services to support continued farmers’ market, farmstand, CSA and mobile market access for SNAP recipients following the closure of Novo Dia Group, the major equipment provider for processing SNAP benefits at these outlets.

August

  • Letter to 2018 Farm Bill Conferees to maintain all positive provisions for organic and conservation agriculture from the House and Senate bills in the final Farm Bill and removing all language that would undermine the organic standards and the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).
  • Comments to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to stop imported meat from being falsely labeled a “Product of U.S.A.”
  • Letter to the 2018 Farm Bill Conferees urging permanent funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP).
  • Letter endorsing Senator Cory Booker and Representative Mark Pocan’s agribusiness merger moratorium bill to halt the mega-mergers sweeping the agribusiness, food manufacturing and grocery industries.
  • Endorsed the Real Meals Campaign calling for major cafeteria operators – Aramark, Compass Group and Sodexo – to fundamentally reorient their business model away from exclusive relationships with Big Food and toward Real Meals that support producers, communities, consumers and the planet.

September

  • Letter to the 2018 Farm Bill Conferees supporting the Senate version of the Farm Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program in the Senate Farm Bill, providing permanent authority and funding of $50 million annually.
  • Letter urging Members of Congress to cosponsor the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2018 (S.3404/H.R. 6800).

October

  • Letter from over 200 global leaders and organizations calling for the protection of food systems from gene drives, a tool that forces genetically engineered traits through entire populations of insects, plants, animals and other organisms. The letter calls for a global moratorium on this technology.

November

  • Letter opposing the nomination of Scott Hutchins as chief scientist at USDA. Hutchins spent over 30 years of his career working at Dow AgroSciences with a focus on pesticides, presenting serious conflicts of interest affecting his ability to serve as chief scientist for the USDA.
  • Letter to the Small Business Association regarding a proposed rule on the SBA 7(a) Guaranteed Loan Program to clarify and tighten standards for guaranteed loans made to poultry farmers and other large-scale confinement livestock operations. Without these improvements, the SBA will continue underwriting and subsidizing the abusive contracting practices of the U.S. poultry sector.

December

  • Comments led by Earthjustice opposing an EPA’s proposed rule to exempt CAFOs from toxic emissions reporting.

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