Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota told a rally of farm and rural activists from around the country that a national economic expansion that helps Wall Street, but forgets about Main Street, isn't good enough, and urged them to continue to support efforts to change long-term policies that affect farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
Daschle, speaking to the "Rally for Rural America," which included more than 200 South Dakotans, said Congress needs a wake up call to change policies that have worsened the current farm crisis and threatened the well-being of producers and entire communities in South Dakota and across the country. The current economic situation has not only hurt producers, but also Main Street businesses, schools, hospitals and clinics, in many communities.
"A national agriculture policy that helps agribusiness giants--while small farmers and ranchers lose operations that have been in their families for generations--simply has to change," Daschle said. "It is time we realize that the current Freedom to Farm policies have failed. We need policies that restore the economic safety net for our farmers and ranchers, and gives them a fair chance to compete."
Daschle said Congress has spent $19 billion more in the four years since the 1996 Freedom to Farm bill was signed, than it was supposed to spend during the bill's entire seven years. Since 1996, farm income has dropped 20%, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts it will fall again this year.
Daschle said Congress must take several steps to deal with the current farm crisis, including restoring the farm safety net to help producers through economic hard times, giving farmers risk management tools, like more effective crop insurance, and making agriculture markets more competitive, at home and abroad.
"We are making headway on some of these issues, because we have support from people like you across the country," Daschle told the rally. "Because of your support, we expect to vote on and pass the Kerrey-Roberts crop insurance bill in the Senate. And I will soon introduce legislation to stop mergers among agribusiness giants that harm family farmers and rural communities. With your help, we can return economic vitality to rural communities, so they remain great places to live, work and raise a family."