I just took a look at Bill Owens' campaign ad highlighting the price crisis gripping dairy farmers. It's good to see politicians paying attention to the problem, but after looking at the ad I have to wonder, do they really understand the problem and if elected will they really try to address the issue?
This isn't a new problem. Like so many national problems we now face, (trade and banking are others) the political root of the problem began in the Reagan Administration and nobody, Democrats included, has taken a serious approach to fixing the price issue. Dairy farmers need a price for their milk that is based on the cost of production, not arbitrary federal support prices and cheese speculation on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. From 1949-1983 milk prices were based on a percentage of "Parity". Parity, to keep it simple was a formula that among other things took into consideration the cost of production. While there were still ups and downs, the perpetual price crises like these of the past 25 years were avoided. In 1983 the Reagan Administration set out to and succeeded in removing milk prices from the Parity formula. Ostensibly, they reasoned that farmers had it too good since they claimed there was a growing "surplus" of dairy products and well we had to put some farmers out of business- and oh yeah, those that survived the politically created crisis would have a life of "drinking free Bubble Up and eating that rainbow stew" to quote Merle Haggard. Of course, all that has really transpired is a twenty five year decline in the farm end of the dairy industry at the same time that processors are enjoying record profits and consolidating at an alarming pace.
Had a surplus been the issue in 1983, it could have been handled without removing farmers from the Parity formula. Had the United States established an on going mandatory supply management system, fair prices could have been maintained, surpluses managed and the economic devastation of much of rural America could have been avoided. It really wasn't about surpluses, however, it was about the Reagan Administration's willingness to auction off family farms so that corporations could gain record profits.
This brings me back to Bill Owens' ad. Yeah, somebody's making a profit off of farmer's backs and there have already been plenty of studies and investigations that point out who. What we and Mr. Owens, Ms. Scozzafava and Mr. Hoffman need to understand is this- even if the store price should drop to lower levels, the farm price of milk can not remain at 30, 20 or 10 year old price levels. Further, as well meaning as they may be, most of the current aid proposals are band aids that substitute taxpayer dollars for fair market prices and that is not acceptable. Make the processors pay a fair price based on a cost of production formula, control the supply with an ongoing supply management program and leaning on the taxpayers won't be necessary. Right now farmers are being screwed, the processors are paying a thirty year old price for farm milk and laughing all the way to the bank, while the taxpayers are being hit again. Maybe this is necessary in the short term, but a long term solution is twenty years overdue.
Will the candidates remember farmers after November? Will they fight for the necessary change or continue to worship at the altar of corporate America?
I'd like to think they will, I'd like to hope that they will, but as a long time political activist (progressive Democrat) that cut his teeth politically in farm activism and politics please forgive my skepticism. I've seen more than one politician run and win while proclaiming to be a friend of the farmer and then watch as they learned the mono-toned poltico speech of Washington D.C. and turn their backs on those that put them there.
Mr. Owens, we need a real solution and you damn well better mean it. This is a problem created by politicians and it's past time for politicians to fix it.