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Free trade won't feed the world; more on CAFTA; other news

(Thursday, March 24, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Free trade won't feed the world
2. American Corn Growers Oppose Ratification of CAFTA
3. Which stakeholder holds the steak?
4. Senate sets $2.8 billion in ag. cuts
5.Biting the land that feeds us
6.Michigan Sugar to close Michigan beet processing plant
7. ACGA applauds introduction of renewable fuels legislation

1. Free trade won't feed the world

Alan Guebert
Farm and Food File for the week beginning Sunday, March 20, 2005

The first hint of spring brings big iron and big irony to the winter-rested Illinois prairie.

Turbo-charged, $125,000 tractors tug 40-foot toolbars injecting $400-per-ton anhydrous so, a month from now, $50,000 corn planters can slug $100-a-bag seed into the $4,000-an-acre ground. Then, come harvest, $200,000 combines will deliver--what--$2 corn?

That's just the obvious costs. Hidden (and they're getting harder to hide every year) costs to society often double agriculture direct expenses: $25 billion farm programs, soil erosion, water hypoxia, rural unemployment, food aid.

And this is the food production model the West wants to impose on the rest of the world through World Trade Organization ag negotiations?

Including ag in WTO talks is an enormous mistake, argues John Hodges, an English animal scientist and ethicist, in a paper recently published in Europe.

First, says Hodges, US and European agriculture won't work for the 80 percent of the world that lives outside of the West for several reasons--the least of which is that it's not working all that well in the US and Europe.

Instead, he recommends, "Agriculture should be taken out of the WTO agenda (to enable) developing countries to benefit from WTO-mandated free trade in non-agricultural food products without being forced to open their food markets."

After all, he explains in his 16-page treatise (at http://www.elsevier.com), this is exactly how the West built their prolific food machines; it protected its "hero" farmers. That protection, through public policies like tariffs, extension education, cooperatives, price support programs, ag research and cheap credit, delivered today's agricultural "businessmen."

It was both moral and ethical back then, Hodges notes, and it's both moral and ethical today because "Western governments know from their own experience over the last 200 years that food cannot be treated simply as a tradable commodity subject to unrestrained capitalism..."

Why is the easy part.

Globalism, where the economically strong and powerful "exploit" the weak and defenseless, will "sooner or later (lead) to hunger, rationing, famine, lost capacity to feed a nation... (and) mass movements off the land."

All will slow, if not kill, globalization and free trade. Both, Hodges believes, are not only good but are crucially necessary for a world that must feed, clothe, house and employ 10 billion people by 2050.

But success--and the success of the then-8 billion on the land, twice today's 4 billion--will rely on sustainable agriculture; the ability of small-scale food producers to establish farms, market their surplus and accrue capital to buy what the rest of the world wants to sell them.

To Hodges, that means agriculture and food have no place at the WTO table. The West should back off its free ag trade agenda and " ...recognize that farmers of the world are a global asset with a right"--like their own farmers--"to continue their ages-long commitment to feeding their own society and to conserving the environment."

This doesn't mean the West needs to "drop its special treatment of agriculture, but raise it to a new level of sustainability by compensating farmers for their good care of resources while consumers should pay the real cost of food."

The first part is already being done.

The European Union will move to a "green" farm payment scheme by 2012 and America's innovative--but ridiculously under-funded--Conservation Security Program supports not just production, but sustainable production.

This is the new wave that can take both the West and the Rest to food security and economic prosperity, writes Hodges. Moreover, it is imperative "to ensure that capitalism serves the global society and not merely those who are already rich in the global village."

And, he urges, it's the smart thing to do because--and here Hodges quotes American cultural historian Thomas Berry's warning to the World Bank in 1997--"The human community and the natural world will go into the future as a single sacred community or both will perish in the dust."

Hodges' words are harsh but accurate: Free trade, like $4,000-an-acre land, won't feed the world. The free world will feed the world.

(c) 2005 ag comm

2. American Corn Growers Oppose Ratification of CAFTA

CRAWFORD, Texas ≠ March 23, 2005≠ Larry Mitchell, American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) Chief Executive Officer, today stated his organizationís opposition to the U.S. ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). "CAFTA is nothing short of the extension of the failed policies and false promises of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ratified over a decade ago," said Mitchell. "Just as NAFTA proved to not only turn out to be a bust for U.S farmers, it put at least 2 million Mexican farmers off their land, maybe as many as 10 million."

Mitchell just returned from a series of meetings with farmers and national leaders in Costa Rica at the invitation of Carlos SolŪs, leader of Upanacional, an organization representing the countryís small and moderately sized farmers. "I know CAFTA will not help many U.S. farmers," said Mitchell. "I know it will hurt many U.S. farmers, especially our sugar farmers. But I would hate to think of what would happen to the farm families of Costa Rica if the raw power and will of U.S. based international corporations were unleashed upon them, or the farm families of any other Central American nation should CAFTA be ratified by the U.S. Congress. Just look at what has happened to so many families just across our border in Mexico under NAFTA."

"ACGA will oppose any trade agreements, such as CAFTA, the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), or any other trade agreement which advances other sectors of the U.S. economy at the expense of U.S. farm families," declared Mitchell. "We also recognize that one of the major concessions the U.S. government wants other countries to make in return for greater access to U.S. farm product markets is that they impose U.S.-like Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection. We recognize the governmentís hypocrisy in promoting free trade on one hand and promoting more restricted trade on items covered by IPRs on the other hand."

"ACGA also recognizes that current and proposed free trade agreements enhance the multinational corporationsí ability to exploit natural resources and production labor around the world at the expense of workers and traditional industry in the U.S., including family farmers," added Mitchell. "We recognize that beef, dairy, and other livestock and other agricultural sectors will meet the same fate that the U.S. textile industry has met if the proposed free trade agreements pass, and the continuing attrition among American vegetable and fruit producers caused by already existing free trade agreements will only accelerate."

"CAFTA may have a pretty name, but the consequences of its ratification by Congress are ugly, concluded Mitchell. "We stand ready, willing and able to support an agreement to help all farmers, but CAFTA falls well short of that goal. We must rethink U.S. agriculture and trade policy and change course to secure farmer livelihoods worldwide"

The American Corn Growers Association represents 14,000 members in 35 states. See http://www.acga.org .

3. Which Stakeholder Holds the Steak?

by Paul Beingessner
Canadian farmer, writer

When the BSE crisis had been devastating Canada for about six months, I heard an interview with a British farmer who was sympathizing with an all too familiar plight. He declared that, awful as it was, Canadian farmers would get through it, and they would be better off for it.

For a long time I was skeptical of that kind of feel-good sentiment, and I think we are still firmly entrenched in the "this is awful" stage. However, I am beginning to feel some profound changes may be stirring in the countryside.

BSE has created a changed mindset in many farmers. Some poor crops and terrible weather conditions have helped, but the devastation BSE wrought on a relatively successful sector of agriculture has opened some eyes that have been shut for decades.

Farmers are thinking about the root causes of their problems. They are searching for solutions. It is a tough and sometimes ugly process. Farmers are realizing the beliefs that appeared to work for them for a long time don't have much to say in today's crisis. One such belief is that the marketplace will work best for everyone if it is free to operate with as little restriction as possible. This may be true when there are many buyers for farmers' products. As an ideology, it fails miserably in the age of giant monopolies.

The meat packing industry is a great example. It is dominated in Canada and the U.S. by two or three giant corporations, which themselves are linked with other huge conglomerates. It would be silly to claim competition operates freely in the packing business. As the National Farmers Union pointed out in a recent press release, Canadian packers dropped the price they were paying for slaughter cattle after the border failed to open on March 7. Nothing had actually changed in their business. Indeed, the fact the border did not open would ensure them a cheap supply and continuing large profits. Yet they took advantage of the turmoil to get cattle even cheaper. That wouldn't happen in a truly competitive environment.

Farmers are also waking up to the fact trade deals will not better their situation. Decades of trade liberalization have made farmers increasingly poorer. Even worse, our largest trading partner doesn't give a fig for international treaties and breaks them with impunity. Hence President Bush's nomination for U.S. Representative to the United Nations, John Bolton, could write in 1997 "Treaties are 'law' only for U.S. domestic purposes. In their international operations, treaties are simply 'political' obligations."

Farmers are also realizing governments and industry have snookered them. A fellow I know told me that the word he most hates is "stakeholder". He figures it is used to manipulate farmers by conveying the idea everyone is in this thing together. The term stakeholder implies several things. It implies there are common interests we can work toward. It implies we are equals seeking a common goal, with equal power and resources.

It's a common trick for government to gather all the competing interests in a room, call them stakeholders, sit them down at tables, and tell them to reach agreement on some contentious issue. So we get a farmer sitting with a railway executive, a grain company executive and a government bureaucrat. Stakeholders one and all. Like at the Kroeger Process. The grain companies, railways and bureaucrats ganged up on farmers. Aided by a few traitorous farm groups, they agreed that open access couldn't possibly be allowed. After all, that might endanger the prosperity of the railways, and their cozy relationship with the grain companies.

We don't have common interests. The interest of the railways is to extract as much as they can from farmers in freight rates and provide service at their convenience. The interest of the grain companies is to get cars when they need them. Why would they care about the price when they pass it on to farmers? They only want all companies to be treated equally.

If we are all stakeholders, how come only the farmer stakeholders keep getting the shaft? How come the banks and railways and oil companies all set new profit records each year? How come the small businesses get driven out while the large ones work continuously to reduce competition? How come governments tolerate it all, while pretending they are searching for solutions? Under the government's definition, I guess the Nazis and the Allies were all just stakeholders in World War II.

I repeat. We don't have common interests. In the food sector, retail giants like Wal-Mart now control the price to the farmer, even though they don't process or buy raw products. Wal-Mart has made it plain to wholesalers it will not tolerate price increases. This limits the ability of processors to pay farmers more. Wal-Mart controls enough of the retail food market it can call the tune right down the chain.

Farmers are waking up, that is for certain. It remains to be seen whether they will take the next step and demand governments deal with the real problem. Perhaps they are finally tired of being the only stakeholders with a stake through the heart.

(c) Paul Beingessner (306) 868-4734 phone 868-2009 fax beingessner@sasktel.net

4. Senate sets $2.8 billion in ag cuts

The Senate refused to drop $2.8 billion in cuts to agriculture in an amendment offered on the budget resolution.

Republicans prevailed on a 54-46 vote after Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) pledged that cuts had been agreed to that "would not change policy" -- an apparent reference to the President's proposal to cap farm program benefits at $250,000 per farm.

Chambliss also pledged that cuts would be distributed fairly across all farm bill titles.

Those include commodity programs, conservation, food stamp and nutrition programs, research and extension and rural development.

Sens. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) and Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) sponsored the amendment to restore full funding to agriculture, noting that it was only 1% of the budget but 16% of the budget cuts.


5. Biting the land that feeds us

By Jim Scharplaz

Prairie Writers Circle

I am a rancher. I live on the land I grew up on, in the house my father built for us. For more than 25 years, I have tended descendants of the same cows my parents bought when they married 64 years ago.

I am also a licensed professional engineer. I hold an advanced degree in agricultural engineering. I have done university agricultural research, and I have designed and built specialized machinery to farm research plots.

I think I have a pretty wide view of agriculture.

What I see are wonderful people doing their best to care for creation and produce healthful food. And I see practices that pollute the soil, water and air, and destroy our long-term ability to feed ourselves.

It's easy to blame lazy, greedy farmers for destructive agricultural practices. But I believe that the economy within which farmers must operate is responsible. This economy aims only for cheap food and a quick bottom line. It forces farmers to cut corners with our soil and water, to use practices that harm the land on which agriculture depends.

As our source of food suffers, so eventually do we all.

For about 15 years I have been involved in various efforts to change the things in agriculture that, if not stopped, will lead to hunger in the future. Others have worked far longer and harder than I have.

Have things changed? Certainly. They have gotten worse.

More fertilizer has polluted the rivers, more topsoil has washed away to the ocean, and more pesticides have polluted the groundwater. Noxious odors and dust have fouled the air. Bioengineered "Frankenfoods" have infiltrated the supermarket and corrupted the gene pool. Multinational corporations have commandeered the marketplace. And many more of those wonderful people have had to leave their farms forever.

That's not to say efforts have been wasted in promoting an agriculture that can furnish abundant food and also protect our soil and water. The situation would be far worse without this work. But I no longer believe that farmers alone can change agriculture for the better.

Agriculture is the basis of civilization, and the two are inseparably linked. No wonder, then, that our agriculture reflects the rest of our economy, in which everything is simply a resource to use, profit from and discard. Our economy's lust for resources has become so rapacious that its relationship to the agriculture that feeds us has become like that of a drug addict who is willing to rob his own mother for another fix.

Many non-farmers are as concerned as anyone else about this. And now that more than 98 percent of Americans don't farm, the decisions these non-farmers make about what to buy, what kind of work to do, what kind of public policy choices are made, and what to value have far more influence than the decisions farmers can make about how to farm. When our economy is driven by consumption, the cheapest possible price and immediate profit, it is not realistic to think that farmers' decisions about how to farm will be based on feeding generations to come.

Our future food security depends on redirecting our society and its economy. I am not about to prescribe the form this should take. But I hope that once we realize our headlong race to the bottom of the resource barrel is madness, our combined good will and intellect will be sufficient for a new path.

Farmers and ranchers are a small minority of our population. They cannot keep feeding us in an economy determined to extract every penny from every resource as fast as possible. Whether our grandchildren will eat is up to non-farmers.


Jim Scharplaz raises cattle in Ottawa County, Kan., and serves on the board of the Kansas Rural Center. He wrote this essay for the Land Institute's Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.

6. Michigan Sugar to close Michigan beet processing plant

(Bakingbusiness.com, March 21, 2005) by Ron Sterk

BAY CITY, MICH. -- The Michigan Sugar Co. has announced it will suspend sugar refining operations in early spring at its Carrollton, Mich., beet processing plant until further notice. The Carrollton facility finished its 2004 crop campaign on March 7 and will be prepared to sit idle for the 2005 crop campaign and until needed again, the company said.

Sugar storage, packaging and distribution will continue at the plant. About 65 full-time and 100 seasonal jobs will be lost, said Thomas Zimmer, chairman of the Michigan Sugar board of directors.

The board cited low sugar prices as the result of an oversupplied market, rising energy costs and the threat of increasing sugar imports under the Central American Free Trade Agreement as reasons for closing the plant.

"We hear about sugar factory closings and don't think much about it until it affects us," Mr. Zimmer said. "Carrollton is the fourth factory in the U.S. to discontinue operations in the last four months."

The Carrollton plant, built in 1902, is the smallest of Michigan Sugar's five plants and the most expensive to operate, the company said. It has a slicing capacity of 3,200 tons of sugar beets daily and yearly refined sugar production of 130 million lbs.

It operated on oil and natural gas. The company's other plants operated on less costly coal or more modern, energy-efficient natural gas equipment.

Sugar beet tonnage produced in the Carrollton district will be delivered to receiving stations as before and the beets will be transferred to one of the other four factories for processing, the company said. Michigan Sugar will continue to operate processing facilities in Bay City (capacity of 8,000 tons daily); Sebewaing, Mich., (5,500 tons); Croswell, Mich., (4,000 tons); and Caro, Mich., (3,700 tons).

The Michigan Sugar Co. is a cooperative owned by about 1,300 growers that employs 450 full-time and 1,750 seasonal workers. Growers bought the facilities from Texas-based Imperial Sugar Co. and became a cooperative in 2002.

Michigan Sugar growers joined with the Monitor Sugar Beet Growers to purchase Monitor?s Bay City processing plant from Illovo Sugar, Ltd., of Durban, South Africa, in 2004.

"Thirteen hundred farmers mortgaged their farms to purchase Michigan Sugar and Monitor Sugar to create the third-largest beet sugar cooperative in the U.S.," said Mark Flegenheimer, president and chief executive officer of Michigan Sugar. "They expect the board and management to take whatever steps are necessary to make their investment profitable and keep their cooperative well positioned for the future."

Michigan Sugar's growers will plant 160,000 acres of sugar beets in 2005, down 15,000 acres from 2004, the company said.

The company produces about 1,000 million lbs of sugar annually under the Pioneer and Big Chief brands.

7. ACGA Applauds Introduction of Renewable Fuels Legislation

Contact: Larry Mitchell (202) 835-0330

WASHINGTON ≠ March 22, 2005 ≠The American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) applauds the introduction of the Fuels Security Act of 2005, which contains a Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). ACGA President Keith Bolin, a corn and swine farmer from Manlius, Ill., commended Senators Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and the 21 other cosponsors of the bipartisan proposal for their initiative and leadership in introducing the legislation.

"As the debate on energy moves forward in the U.S. Senate, we believe one of the goals of energy independence should be to promote the production of renewable domestic fuels," said Bolin. "We believe an extraordinary opportunity is at hand to increase energy independence, reduce oil imports, improve our environment and stimulate rural economies."

The new legislation (S. 650) mirrors a measure passed in the last Congress by the Senate, but has an updated schedule to reflect both growth of the renewable fuels industry and the fact that domestically produced energy has taken on a more important role in recent months. The establishment of an RFS will capitalize on the nationís growing bio-fuel industry, expanding the use of these domestic, "home-grown" fuels to 8 billion gallons per year by 2012.

"ACGA fully understands that the initiatives in this bill will greatly benefit Americaís farm families," said Bolin. "Requirements for a portion of the nationís motor fuel to come from domestic, renewable bio-based sources will make this nation less dependent on imported oil and will give additional market opportunities and flexibility to farmers of corn, soybeans, and other crops. Our nation needs a national energy policy which ensures affordability and reliability through diverse, decentralized, domestic and renewable energy sources."

Original co-sponsors of the bill include Senators Hagel, R-Neb., Grassley, R-Iowa, Johnson, D-S.D., Bond, R-Mo., Dorgan, D-N.D., Talent, R-Mo., Nelson, D-Neb., Coleman, R-Minn., Durbin, D-Ill., Thune, R-S.D., Obama, D-Ill., Salazar, D-Colo., Dayton, D-Minn., Frist, R-Tenn., Conrad, D-N.D., Bayh, D-Ind., Stabenow, D-Mich., DeWine, R-Ohio, and Bunning, R-Ky.