Zane Reese is concerned about the agricultural imports coming into the United States. He's concerned about the eroding infrastructure within the cotton industry. He's worried that trade agreements will continue to hurt U.S. farm prices. And he's frustrated that the government seems to be either unaware or unconcerned about the plight of the American farmer.
“Someone must save American agriculture,” Reese said at a modest demonstration he and a dozen or so other frustrated Texas farmers organized during the recent Texas Agricultural Summit in Lubbock.
“We have a small, loosely organized, grassroots organization that traces its origins to the late 1970s and the American Agricultural Movement,” Reese said. “We have groups in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, California, Michigan, North Carolina and Kansas.
“Our goal is to save American agriculture.”
Reese points to four specific trouble spots for U.S. farmers.
“The strong U.S. dollar hurts farmers,” he said.
“Ag policy in the United States does not work in the interest of farmers,” he added.
“Trade agreements also do not work for the good of farmers in this country.” He cited NAFTA, GATT and the WTO as trade policies that have hurt U.S. agriculture.
“And we face market concentrations that prevent competition. We sell to just two or three companies and buy from only a handful.”
Reese said the strong dollar “is killing us in export markets because our products simply cost more. At the same time, other countries have devalued their currencies to make them more competitive.”
He said NAFTA helped Canadian and Mexican farmers more than it did U.S. producers. “They got market advantages (partly because of currency). And the combination of GATT and NAFTA destroyed the peanut program. It also hurt vegetable producers.”
He said the United Sates produced 17 million bales of cotton last year. “The market consumed 25 million bales, but imports kept prices low.”
Zane said the United States currently imports as much as 65 percent of its food. “That's about equal to where we are with crude oil,” he said.
He surmised that conditions similar to the 1970's gasoline rationing could cause considerably more problems if its food folks stand in line to buy.
“We're not opposed to bi-lateral trade, but we need to trade for what we can't produce. “We don't grow bananas, for instance, so we should develop trade agreements with countries that do.”
Reese said laws exist, dating back to the early 1930s, which should protect U.S. agriculture from severely depressed prices
“Under those laws, the secretary of agriculture is supposed to establish agricultural policy that will provide farmers a sensible price. It's similar to the regulations that guarantee utilities a price that results in a reasonable profit.”
He explained that parity does not represent a set price but a formula by which government can establish a fair price for farm commodities.
“It provides a ceiling as much as it does a floor. Farmers are prohibited from collective organization to hold commodities off the market to get higher prices,” Reese said. “But regulations do not set limits on prices for materials we have to buy.”
He said laws enacted in 1932 treated agriculture as an integral part of national security.
He said those laws made farming something less than free enterprise, which his organization contends constitutes a “taking,” which, according to the Fifth Amendment should result in just compensation.
“We want government to follow the law,” he said. “We're asking the government to maintain reasonable market conditions. We'd also like to see changes on embargoes.”
Reese, who farms near Lorenzo, Texas, and Danny Spradley, a farmer from Anton, Texas, said they hope to educate farmers about their organization.
“We've talked to elected officials who agree with us that the main problem we face is the strong dollar and devalued currencies in other countries,' Spradley said.
“We have to keep the American farmer on the land,” Reese said. “It is a matter of national security.”