In country star Jason Aldean’s song Fly over States, he overhears first class passengers on a flight from New York to LA, looking down on the countryside and wondering, “who’d want to live down there, in the middle of nowhere.” Aldean then flips the dismissive line into a proud anthem about the middle of the country. Like the song, Donald Trump flipped the predictions of the professional political class and rode a wave of support from many people who felt over-looked in those fly over states all the way to the Presidency.
The power of the so-called fly over states in the election is impossible to ignore. The electoral maps tell the story. A swath of red, often mostly rural, states in the middle and south of the country, bookended by blue states on the coasts. Even within the few Midwest blue states like Minnesota and Illinois, you can see the stark divide between how urban and rural counties saw the candidates. A look back at the 2012 electoral map tells us this divide is not new, but perhaps wasn’t taken seriously by many Democrats because President Obama won. As the Daily Yonder reports, the long-standing urban-rural voting gap is widening. At least part of this voting gap can be attributed to the Democratic Party’s loss of credibility on a number of core issues that affect the lives of rural communities in those so-called fly over states.
As international trade diplomats contemplate the latest move in their world—a formal complaint by the United States about China’s use of price supports for its farmers, lodged at the WTO last week—I am in Delhi to present IATP’s most recent findings of U.S. agricultural commodity dumping in export markets. Dumping is the sale of goods for less than their cost of production. Dumping distorts markets, and especially in food markets, destroys livelihoods and opportunities for development.
In anticipation of the full report, here are some of the initial numbers. They show the return of dumping in 2015 for several major commodities. The dumping margin is: for wheat (33 percent), soybeans (11 percent), maize (14 percent), rice (2 percent) and cotton (49 percent). In IATP’s analysis, this renewal of relatively high levels of dumping for some commodities does not signal a simple return to the world before the price shocks of 2007-08. While production has responded well to higher prices, the risk of over-production—as well as environmental constraints as climate change takes effect—make high levels of volatility likely to persist in the medium to long term.
Dumping is usually raised by one government, which complains about another. The complaint focuses on the use of public support for sectors whose products are then exported at prices lower than cost.
IATP measures its dumping calculation a little differently.
These calculations do capture the role of government payments, which are especially high for cotton and historically have been high for rice. But the numbers also show that something else is going on. The level of government support just is not sufficient to account for the dumping margins we have measured. If the government is not paying the difference, or not all of it, who is?
As the 43rd session of the UN Committee on Food Security meets in Rome this week they will finalize the negotiated draft recommendations on “connecting smallholders with markets”, developed with inputs from several hundreds of civil society organizations, including IATP. It has been a long process to get here.
At least since the food price crisis, if not from earlier, agricultural development initiatives have identified “connecting smallholders with markets” as an important strategy for ensuring the livelihood security of smallholder producers. However, most initiatives focus on integrating farmers and other smallholder producers into food value chains (vertically integrated companies that source, process and retail their products, such as Pepsi Co and Nestle), rather than exploring what kind of marketing channels would best fit the local needs of food producers, and consumers.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) is celebrating because October is National Farm to School Month! For 30 years, IATP has been at the center of the local food movement, presenting an alternative vision to factory farming and industrial food. Nowhere is this work seen more profoundly than in our Farm to Institution Program. Our work has connected farmers directly with schools, hospitals, and now early childhood education programs, to provide fresh, healthy, local foods to their meal programs. In October we’re celebrating National Farm to School Month with our partner organizations around this state!
With the start of harvest season, October is a perfect time to celebrate Minnesota’s agriculture with Farm to School activities happening in schools and early child care settings across the state. Did you know that in 2014, over 268 school districts in Minnesota were participating in Farm to School activities? You can read more about Farm to School in Minnesota from the state’s Farm to School Leadership Team’s 2016 report.
This piece was originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus on September 27, 2016.
The consolidation of corporate power in agriculture has been in the news a lot lately, first with the proposed ChemChina-Syngenta and Dow-DuPont mergers, and now with Bayer’s proposal to purchase seed giant Monsanto. National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson testified in Congress last week that the proposed mergers would enable just three corporations to control 80 percent of the U.S. seed supply (and 70 percent of the global pesticide market). The result is that farmers have fewer and fewer choices about the kinds of seeds they want to plant. The concentration of processing and distribution also limits options and further squeezes farmers at a time when prices are tumbling around the globe.
This expansion of corporate control is also happening in three international treaties that establish the global rights of various stakeholders to seeds, germplasm, and plant varieties. Each of these treaties strikes a certain balance among those interests. And recently, like the agribusiness mergers, the balance has been tilting away from the interests of smaller-scale farmers and diversified agriculture. Unsurprisingly, corporations interested in accessing seeds and other genetic resources are pushing hard on all fronts.
The 2016 election is bizarre, to say the least. While the vast majority of reporting has focused on the horserace and he said she said aspects of the campaigns, the policy proposals put forward by the candidates will have profound and lasting impacts on the citizens they seek to govern. As a recent article in The Atlantic notes, “Once in office, presidents almost always try to carry out their pre-election agendas. When they’re unable to keep those promises, it’s usually because of congressional opposition—not because they’ve discarded campaign rhetoric to pursue other goals.”
With an increasingly globalized food system, trade and agricultural policies have become integral to combating climate change, providing economic security, and ensuring public health. These policies affect our jobs, the food we eat, and the land we live on. The trade and agricultural agenda set by the United States will affect billions of people around the globe. As the presidential debate season begins on Monday, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy will be watching closely to see if and how the candidates address the following questions:
This piece originally published by Farming Matters on September 20, 2016 and republished under the Creative Commons license.
Agro-chemical and fossil fuel intensive agricultural food systems not only destroy the environment but also ignore both the health implications (of the crops/food produced), and the socio-economic implications (for the people engaged in producing that food). Agroecological approaches, in contrast, see food production as one, albeit crucial, component in the larger web of life. They draw on science, but are built on the firm foundations of traditional knowledge; and they seek to enhance ecological integrity while attempting to address food sovereignty concerns. While industrial farming operations are dependent on outside (and often fossil fuel-based) inputs like herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics and genetically modified crops, local food and farming systems minimise off-farm inputs by rotating crops, integrating livestock production, and following agroecological practices. For those who see ecological approaches as necessary for achieving the food, water, health, poverty and environmental targets of the post 2015 agenda, agroecology with its emphasis on local, shared knowledge is not only central to maintaining ecosystem integrity, and revitalising rural economies but also to realising the food sovereignty of those involved in food production and consumption.
Regardless of their operation, do all farmers benefit when they sell their production to traders and processors who export crop- and livestock-derived products? According to a recent interview with Ambassador Darci Vetter, the chief U.S. agricultural trade negotiator, the answer is unequivocally yes. Even now, when prices paid to farmers and ranchers by those traders and processors are well below the cost of producing those crops and livestock, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)? Consider the case of dairy farmers.
IATP contends that the dairy import provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) will do nothing to stem the global raw milk price collapse that is driving U.S. dairy farmers out of business. Those low prices provide very cheap raw materials to such mega-dairy processors as Kraft Foods, Dean Foods and Land O’Lakes, which is owned by the mega-cooperative, the Dairy Farmers of America, but the benefits to farmers are vanishingly small.
The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part three in a five part series.
Though the main critique of TTIP has been its sweeping impacts on rule making and standard setting in the two regions, further agricultural tariff liberalization will have a major impact, in particular in the E.U. The leaks offer a first look at which agricultural goods will be on the line. While average tariffs on goods traded between the U.S. and EU are quite low, those figures obscure substantial differences on key products, some of which currently protect vulnerable farming sectors that are already suffering from low prices and unstable markets. In a memo describing tariff reduction offers dated November 20, 2015, the EU notes the intention under TTIP to eliminate tariffs on 97 percent of goods. While exactly how this will play out will only become clear during the final “endgame” of the negotiations, the memo describes substantial, and in many cases, abrupt changes in tariffs on farm goods. As of November, the EU was offering to lower more tariffs than the U.S., but in the latest round of negotiations in April, the U.S. reaffirmed its goal for total tariff elimination. The EU still opposes this position in the interest of its most sensitive agriculture products.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has the potential to transform agricultural trade between the United States and the European Union. TTIP could potentially lower tariffs and non-tariff barriers on a range of agricultural goods. While the impact of this on U.S. and EU food and farm systems has been heavily debated, there has been much less discussion of its possible impacts on developing countries. Could TTIP make it more difficult for developing countries to export, particularly goods which many communities have come to heavily rely on for their livelihoods?
TTIP is at the forefront of the “new era” of trade deals in that it seeks to move beyond simple reduction in tariffs towards regulatory harmonization on issues such as labor and environmental standards. In an agricultural context, tariff barriers and regulatory harmonization in areas where the U.S. and the EU differ, such as pesticide use, have garnered the most attention in the negotiations. While many states are implementing innovative pesticide regulations, in general, U.S. standards are lower than those in the EU. However, the push for regulatory convergence within TTIP—advocated by lobby groups such as CropLife America—would push standards to the lowest common denominator, while reducing individual U.S. states’ ability to regulate pesticides, as well as future efforts to regulate pesticide use within the EU.