The events of Sept. 11 were horrific and left us stunned.

We feel much sympathy and compassion for those families who have suffered loss.

One of the positive outcomes was the uniting of Americans. It gave us a keener sense of value and appreciation for family and friends. It also pointed out how we can no longer take for granted our abundant food supply and its safety.

One of my major concerns as a producer of agricultural products today is the rapid concentration and consolidation of our food supply. A few firms supply our inputs: seed, fertilizer, chemicals, etc., and there are even fewer markets for our products, in most cases these are one and the same. This allows for too much market power to suit me. Among the questions we must ask ourselves are: "Why are cash prices for wheat so incredibly low, when we hear reports stating that wheat stocks globally are at their lowest levels in 20 years and we are receiving a price for it that we received 30 years ago?"

At the present time, mid- and small-sized farmers are being squeezed out, because of the policies of our government and big agribusiness firms.

For the past five years, we have been operating under the Freedom to Farm bill, which has been a dismal failure. It has promoted full production without sufficient markets to absorb that production; consequently, we ended up huge piles of grain on the ground and record low prices.

Writers of Freedom to Farm did not envision the hardships that farm families and the surrounding communities would face. As a result, record levels of government supports were provided to ward off a total disaster in the farm sector. Now it seems that we are locked into a government welfare program.

A new farm bill is being debated through the legislative process. Many variations are being debated, but the one that likely will succeed (only because President Bush and large agribusiness firms are supporting it) pretty much mirrors what we have under Freedom to Farm. Without some safeguards in it, there will be a continued exodus from the farm, large surpluses and huge government outlays targeted to benefit large mega farms. Freedom to Farm has been a bonanza for big agribusiness firms, so they want more of the same.

You can rest assured these corporations will be turning up the heat on our legislators to push these policies.

The features I think need to be included in the new farm program are:

1. The new farm legislation must have in place a Competition Title, with safeguards to help level the playing field for producers who are otherwise defenseless in the struggle to survive against these huge corporations. They seem to be proceeding without much resistance in their effort to monopolize the food supply. The producer must have some protection and input in the contracts he is offered.

2. Our anti-trust laws must be supported and enforced to stop the unending consolidation effort of the huge monopolies.

3. A mandatory county-of-origin labeling that includes beef, pork, lamb and exclusively U.S. born, raised and slaughtered only to carry the U.S. Department of Agriculture grade stamp. This would give the consumer a choice whether to purchase meat raised in the U.S. or that have been imported. Most other segments of the economy have a label of origin on them; why not our food?

4. Ban packer ownership of cattle, swine and sheep within 14 days of slaughter. It would exempt all cooperatives, as well as all producer-owned plants with less than 2% of the national slaughter.

Both of our U.S. senators have not been supportive of these very important additions to the farm bill. Whose interest are they looking out for?

Could it be large agribusiness?

The farm sector needs the input and support of the general public to flood our representatives and senators with their concerns, if the outcome is to be a positive one for agriculture, our rural communities and the few producers that remain. Consumers must be concerned about these food issues, because ultimately this will affect you and the price you pay for it. If enough pressure is applied, we can influence the outcome. I would like to encourage you to talk about these issues over the holidays with your out-of-state relatives and friends and encourage them to take the message back to their legislators.--Robert Farrell, Hill City, KS.

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