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Coalition urges rethinking of U.S. agriculture policy

Subsidy elimination alone won't cure the world's agricultural woes, contends a coalition of family farm, agricultural commodity groups, and rural organizations.

“We stand here united, to tell the world's farmers, their governments, and their trade negotiators that U.S. farm policy is not working for farmers anywhere in the world,” said John Dittrich, senior policy analyst for the American Corn Growers Association and a farmer from Tilden, Neb.

The coalition used a new study, released this week, to begin its public push nationally and internationally for rethinking “a U.S. farm policy, built over almost 20 years, on the theory of free trade and exports as a cure-all.”

Dittrich said the study, “Rethinking U.S. Agriculture Policy: Changing Course to Secure Farmer Livelihoods Worldwide,” was done by the Agriculture Policy Analysis Center of the University of Tennessee.

Daryll E. Ray, Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, and APAC director, said U.S. policies “heavily influence the fate of farmers well beyond our borders.”

“Therefore, policy addressing the needs of U.S. farmers also should recognize our larger global influence. We've found conclusive evidence through our analysis that international trade policies have indeed led the way for the global downward spiral of farm prices and farm income.

“We can also predict, with a significant degree of accuracy, that the elimination of U.S. farm subsidies — without real price-enhancing reform of U.S. policy — will destroy our farm and rural economy,” Ray said. “And surprisingly, it would perpetuate the problems facing farmers in developing countries, rather than alleviating them.”

Dittrich said the report “goes comprehensively to the heart of the ever-more contentious trade issues of farm subsidies in developed countries, low world commodity prices, and global poverty.

“We are united in our message and will be traveling to the World Trade Organization conference at Cancun, Mexico, to participate in the policy negotiations.”

At that time, he said, the coalition will also present an open letter to farmers, farm workers, and rural people of the world “calling for a dialogue with our counterparts across the globe on the findings in this research.”

The report is a critical tool that policymakers “should use in constructing farm policy,” said John Hansen, secretary of the National Farmers Union.

“We ask the world community to thoughtfully review this research, which concludes that even if the difficult task of negotiating the elimination of global farm subsidies is completed, family-based agriculture will continue to spiral downward as a result of continued low commodity prices. Farmer-oriented policies and international cooperation are the real solutions.”

The report, Ray said, offers a blueprint for discussion on topics such as acreage diversion through short term conservation uses and longer term acreage reserves; a farmer-owned food security reserve; and price supports as a replacement for the current and expensive policy of direct government subsidies. It also explores the use of non-tradable energy crops as a viable alternative to short and long term acreage diversion options.

A presentation of the study and its background will be made at the WTO conference at Cancun.

More information about the study and Ray's presentation may be found at


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