It’s heartening to hear the Obama administration recognizes the monopolization of food production by Big Agribusiness at the expense of small family farms is a real problem that needs to be dealt with. When the free market functions so well and so efficiently that we all get our food from one monstrous megacorporation, with small farmers a part of some hazy idyllic past, it will be too late to do anything about it.
A deepening divide between big agribusiness firms and family farms will be on display Friday when the Obama administration launches a series of workshops probing antitrust issues in agriculture. Big firms say the forums will show a well-functioning market, but some some producers hope the meetings will expose a system increasingly hostile to family farms.
Jim Foster with his old open-air hog barns in Montgomery County, Mo., will be in Ankney, Iowa for those sessions, and he is one of the producers looking for change. “Bought this place in ‘63 when I got out of college and got married, been here ever since,” Foster said.
It hasn’t been easy keeping this rambling operation together. Big packing companies took over most pork production years ago. That drove down prices and drove most of Foster’s neighbors out of the industry.
Twenty-five years ago, Montgomery County had about 200 independent hog farmers. Foster is one of two now. He’s got just one steady buyer for his hogs.
Meanwhile, companies that sell Foster supplies have grown just as powerful, as are the ones he depends on to buy his livestock. That leaves Foster trapped between giants — a situation he blames on “hands-off” economic policy.
“The biggest boar at the trough needs to win no matter who he lashes out with his tusks and kills, ’cause the biggest company left standing will be efficient, and that efficiency will move down to the consumer,” Foster says. “That’s hogwash. That doesn’t work. We found out from the banks that it doesn’t work that way. They keep that efficiency in their pocket.”