Farm Aid News & Views April 1997
FARM AID NEWS & VIEWS
Volume 5, No. 4
- WINTER FREEZE + SPRING FLOODS = DISASTER
- BRUTAL WINTER FREEZES MIDWEST
- SNOWMELT CAUSES SPRING FLOODING
- DISASTERS CAUSE INCREASED STRESS IN FARM
- ASSISTANCE FOR STRUGGLING FARMERS
- FLAG'S DISASTER GUIDE AVAILABLE
- NATURAL DISASTERS HIT CALIFORNIA, FLORIDA, OHIO
- FARMER TO FARMER HAYLIFT UPDATE
- ANTI-FACTORY FARM CAMPAIGN VICTORY
- DISASTER RESOURCES
- UPCOMING EVENTS
WINTER FREEZE + SPRING FLOODS = DISASTER
FOR FAMILY FARMERS
Family farmers, in addition to battling unstable markets and
unfair farm policies, are faced with managing the whims of
Mother Nature. As a result of government policies that favor
large-scale corporate farming over family farms, many farmers
and ranchers are just barely able to make ends meet, leaving
them just one natural disaster away from losing their farms.
In the Midwest, the winter of 1996-97 will go down as one of the
most brutal and severe on record. Record high snow
accumulation and freezing temperatures left thousands of cattle
dead. This spring's snowmelt in Minnesota and the Dakotas has
increased the volume of spring flooding, turning fields into
lakes and roads into rivers. It is estimated that up to 100,000
cattle have been lost in the region due to floods and freezing
temperatures. Cattle losses along with planting delays caused by
spring flooding will affect crop yields and could add up to
hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for family farmers.
This issue of Farm Aid News & Views will examine the effects
of recent natural disasters on family farmers and rural
BRUTAL WINTER FREEZES MIDWEST
Last winter left in its wake record snow accumulation and record
low temperatures. Thousands of cattle died in Minnesota and
the Dakotas over the winter due to the extreme cold, and nearly
200,000 turkeys and chickens died when the weight of the snow
on their barns caused roofs to collapse.
Farmers in some areas were unable to get hay and feed to their
livestock due to snow drifts up to 20 feet high. Farmers needing
to purchase hay found prices doubled. Impassable roads
prevented milk trucks from getting to farms, causing farmers to
dump their milk. During severe blizzards, electrical power was
lost to many areas, preventing the use of electric milking
machines and causing pipes to freeze.
Some Midwest farmers used as much fuel for running
generators and snowplows as they would normally use to
prepare the crop fields in the spring. Farmers whose livestock
survived the winter are experiencing increased costs to treat
weather-related health problems such as frozen udders. These
weather related problems went from bad to worse recently as
blizzards were replaced by floods.
SNOWMELT CAUSES SPRING FLOODING
Extreme flooding throughout the Midwest is adding insult to
injury after a historically severe winter. In Minnesota alone,
winter blizzard farm damage cost over $100 million, and
flooding farms are expected to push the damages to over $1
billion. More than two million acres of Minnesota cropland and
1.7 million acres of North Dakota cropland are under water.
North Dakota has lost an estimated two-thirds of its spring calf
crop, and dairy farmers throughout the region are now finding
that impassable lakes have replaced mountains of snow in
denying milk truck access to their farms. Flooded grain bins
have destroyed feed reserves and income for farmers who were
planning to market their grain in the spring.
In 1993, Midwestern farmers suffered great losses due to summer
floods; crops had been planted and were washed away. This year,
water is preventing anyone from working in the fields. Some
farmers can't get to their farm equipment, and the saturated soil
will delay planting, resulting in a shorter growing period and
likely affecting crop yields.
DISASTERS CAUSE INCREASED STRESS
IN FARM COUNTRY
A downturn in the economic fortunes of farming communities
inevitably brings about increased stress levels and this year's
severe weather has been no different.
Calls to farmer hotlines are already up throughout the region
and are expected to rise even higher later this year. The North
Dakota Mental Health Association reports an increase in calls
from farmers and hotline workers suffering from anxiety,
frustration and depression. In South Dakota, there have been
several reported farmer suicides attributed to the disaster.
Right now most farmers and ranchers are preoccupied with
digging out from the disasters and trying to keep their farms
going. Mental health experts in the region say that farmers will
have to deal with increased levels of stress and frustration later
in the year after the full extent of the weather damage is known.
ASSISTANCE FOR STRUGGLING FARMERS
President Clinton has declared the areas hit by floods federal
disaster areas. The Clinton administration is seeking nearly $500
million in flood assistance for rural and urban damage to the
Dakotas and Minnesota.
Also under the disaster declaration, a variety of low-interest
loans are available for qualifying farmers and ranchers. Farm
Service Agency (FSA) emergency loans of up to $500,000 cover
production and property losses. However, only farmers who
qualify for commercial credit are eligible for these emergency
State agencies are also providing help. The University of
Minnesota's Extension Service, for instance, has set up an
emergency livestock housing program that links farmers who
need to move livestock from flooded areas with farmers who
aren't flooded. Contact your local extension office for more
information about local assistance programs.
Farm assistance groups around the country have mobilized to
assist family farmers recovering from disastrous weather
conditions. The North Dakota Conference of Churches, based in
Bismarck, has been working with the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA) and the Red Cross to generate
support for farmers. "We've been contacting churches to get
volunteers to help with sandbagging," says Eunice Brinckerhoff.
"Family farmers are in terrible trouble. The loss of cattle is just
horrendous. There are thousands of corpses that need to be
removed, and the ground is too saturated to bury dead cattle."
North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture Roger Johnson has
been coordinating agriculture disaster relief in North Dakota.
The North Dakota Department of Agriculture has set up an
Agriculture Disaster Response Center, which provides
information and referrals to farmers needing help and
coordinates removal and disposal of animal carcasses. The
department is working with other organizations to remove dead
animals from waterways. Johnson says that six to seven
hundred carcasses have been removed from rivers, streams and
creeks, but several hundred remain. The next challenge will be
the removal of dead animals that aren't in waterways.
Farm advocate groups have long worked for fair treatment of
family farmers stricken by natural disasters. In 1994, after
extensive flooding in the Midwest, South Dakota-based Dakota
Rural Action, along with the National Family Farm Coalition
and Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) won a temporary
disaster set-aside provision where FSA (then FmHA) would set
aside one year's payment and put it on the end of the loan,
waiving principle and interest. This temporary policy was made
permanent in 1995, and remains an option for farmers facing
hardship. According to Theresa Keaveny of Dakota Rural
Action, "This provision helps thousands of family farmers stay
on the land, and it keeps more money on Main Street."
Changes in the 1996 Farm Bill placed new eligibility
requirements on farmers needing loans. Many farmers have
been put into high-risk categories due to factors beyond their
control - such as the weather. "We don't think losses from this
winter are reason to prevent people from getting loans," says
Keaveny. Farmers don't have the cash resources to weather the
weather loss due to low cattle prices driven down by
concentration and major meatpacker market control. Dairy
farmers are also dealing with low farmgate prices while their
input costs - heat, electricity, fuel, feed - are up.
In addition to highlighting weaknesses in federal farm policy,
this winter also illustrated how large-scale hog and dairy
operations are harmful to the environment. Keaveny reports
that there have been numerous industrial dairy and hog lagoon
spills in violation of state and local permits, proving that large-
scale livestock lagoons are not designed to withstand major
disasters such as flooding. "Lagoons are not equipped to handle
these winters," Keaveny says.
FLAG'S DISASTER GUIDE AVAILABLE
Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG), a nonprofit law firm based
in Minnesota, has a publication available to help farmers and
ranchers find disaster relief. The publication, Farmers' Guide to
Disaster Assistance (Second Edition), guides farmers and farm
advocates through government assistance programs. First
published in 1993, this book provided invaluable assistance to
farmers trying to recover from Midwest flooding. The 1997
edition is revised because of changes that Congress passed in
1994 that eliminated traditional disaster programs and altered
crop insurance provisions, according to Stephen Carpenter of
FLAG. "Every year, somewhere there's a disaster," says
Carpenter. "There is an ongoing need for the book." The new
edition significantly expands crop insurance information and
discusses USDA disaster insurance, emergency loans, Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance and small
business loans. See Resources for ordering information.
NATURAL DISASTERS HIT CALIFORNIA, FLORIDA, OHIO
The Midwest and Great Plains regions are not the only areas
taking a hit this year. Tornadoes and floods have ravaged the
whole country from California to Florida, destroying winter
crops and soaking spring plantings. California reports an
estimated $245 million in agriculture damage, and Florida lost
$250 million worth of winter crops due to a sudden freeze. In
Ohio, recent flooding has caused severe damage to many rural
FARMER TO FARMER HAYLIFT UPDATE
Last summer, Texas farmers suffered through the worst drought
since the Dust Bowl. Many farmers and ranchers lost their hay
crops and were unable to feed their cattle, forcing many to sell
their herds and leave the business. After Willie Nelson donated
the proceeds of his 4th of July Picnic concert to help drought-
stricken farmers, Farm Aid worked with Lutheran Social
Services of the South and Texas Farmers Union to establish a
Farmer to Farmer Haylift to help Texas farmers feed their
livestock through the winter.
The haylift effort, which wrapped up in February, provided hay
and emergency assistance to 125 farmers and ranchers. In all,
more than 200 tons of hay were donated by farmers in South
Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin and
Other organizations that made the haylift a success include the
Texas Corn Growers, National Family Farm Coalition,
Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Community Farm
Alliance, American Corn Growers Association, Rural
Advancement Foundation International - USA, The
International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Roadway Express.
ANTI-FACTORY FARM CAMPAIGN VICTORY
Family farmers scored a significant victory earlier this month
when the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) returned
more than $50,000 in checkoff funds to the National Pork Board
following a USDA audit that found that NPPC had improperly
used the funds to conduct surveillance of family farm
organizations opposed to factory hog operations (see the March
1997 issue of Farm Aid News & Views). The groups under
surveillance included Iowa Citizens for Community
Improvement, Land Stewardship Project, Missouri Rural Crisis
Center, National Farmers Union, Center for Rural Affairs, and
Corporate Agribusiness Research Project.
In addition to repaying the funds, NPPC fired Mongoven, Biscoe
and Duchin, the consulting firm hired to monitor family farm
organizations. Family farm groups are calling for a full
investigation of NPPC's spending activities by USDA's Office of
Inspector General. NPPC officials had previously denied using
farmer checkoff funds to monitor family farm organizations.
The announcement came after weeks of protest by family farm
groups, capped off by a National Agriculture Day demonstration
at NPPC headquarters in Des Moines, organized by the
Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment. Over 300
farmers and rural residents from seven states participated in the
demonstration, along with Farm Aid President Willie Nelson.
Farm Aid executive director Carolyn Mugar said NPPC's actions
demonstrate the power of grassroots family farm organizations.
"This battle was David versus Goliath, and David won," says
Mugar. "NPPC should make note of this victory, because family
farm groups will not stand by while factory farm interests are
promoted above family farms."
Rodney Skalbeck, a Minnesota farmer and member of the Land
Stewardship Project, states, "NPPC is on notice - family farmers
will not go away. We intend to monitor NPPC closely and take
action whenever we see them acting against the interests of the
American family farmer."
For more information on disaster relief or how you can help:
Farm Aid's Family Farm Disaster Fund
Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) Farmers' Guide to Disaster
Assistance (Second Edition, 1997), $18 for farmers, ranchers and
nonprofits, 46 East 4th Street, Suite 1301, St. Paul, MN 55101,
612- 223-5400, fax 612-223-5335.
North Dakota Department of Agriculture
Disaster Hotline 888-337-8632
Mental Health Association of North Dakota
North Dakota Conference of Churches 701-255-0604
Dakota Rural Action 605-697-5204
South Dakota Farm Crisis Hotline 800-691-4336
South Dakota Department of Agriculture Hotline 800-228-5254
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Farm Advocates 800-652-9747
"Minnesota Meltdown, Spring '97" is an Internet home page
designed by the University of Minnesota's Extension Service
that gives information on the Midwestern flood and provides
links to other resources, including the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA), IRS Disaster Relief Information,
the National Weather Service, the Minnesota Department of
Agriculture and other universities.
1997 Cooperative Development Forum, "Cooperatives:
Partnerships for Economic Development," June 13-15, Radisson
Hotel, St. Paul, MN. Contact Mark Jacobson, 202-383-5447.
Farm Aid News is produced by the Institute for
Agriculture and Trade Policy for Farm Aid. Editors
Harry Smith and Kate Hoff. We encourage the
reproduction of Farm Aid News & Views. Comments and
suggestions welcome. Farm Aid (617) 354-2922. Fax:
(617) 354-6992. Email: Farmaid1@aol.com. For more
information on agricultural publications contact IATP,
(612) 870-0453. Fax: (612) 870-4846.