Pombo is no Friend to Family Farms
How many of you have caught the TV commercial done by Ben & Jerry’s in support of family farms? Was anyone else stunned by their claim that 300 family farms in the US go under per week?
This country’s family farmers are some of the most committed environmentalists that we have. Most of them take the notion of stewardship extremely seriously and dedicate a tremendous amount of hard work to sustainable farming practices that do not harm the environment. But with the bulk of our nation’s farming being conducted by huge agri-business, family farmers have found themselves in ever more tenuous positions. Fortunately, many of these farmers have, with local and state support (but precious little federal support) embarked on new business models for farming that allow them to create niches which enable them to stay in business and provide the rest of us with specialty products that might not otherwise be available.
One group that is hard at work right in CD-11 is the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. Please visit their website and get acquainted with them. Check out their pictures of 300 growers out on a chilly November day learning about the use of chipping machines as an alternative to burning so as to comply with San Joaquin County air quality regulations. Unfortunately, there are no pictures on the website showing CAFF members who went to Congressman Richard Pombo’s Stockton office on September 26 to deliver petitions protesting his legislation which decimated the Endangered Species Act.
These are the people Richard Pombo supposedly went to Washington to represent. But when they spoke out against CAFTA, saying it would hurt their businesses, Pombo went ahead and voted for it. When the Senate Agriculture Committee announced that conservation programs aimed at supporting family farmers would be targeted for one-third of the ’06 budget reconciliation cuts, Pombo didn’t take up their battle in the House.
Since the 2002 Farm Bill, conservation programs have suffered $3.8 billion in cuts. Last year alone, federal conservation programs experienced a $4.3 billion backlog due to insufficient funds, preventing three out of every four applicants from receiving needed assistance.
“Cutting these programs another $1.054 billion ultimately means dirtier water, less habitat for wildlife and less clean air to breathe,” Grossi added. “It makes no sense for these critical programs to bear the brunt of budget cuts when farmers already can’t participate in them for a lack of funds.”
The public and most farmers support stewardship-based farm policies that encourage more diverse farming systems, reduce economic and environmental risks and produce a broader array of public benefits. Public opinion surveys conducted by American Farmland Trust indicate that 85 percent of voters expect and are willing to pay farmers for those benefits, and at least 65 percent of urban-edge landowners would welcome such payments.
“In a time of record federal deficit, conservation programs prove to be a good value and a good investment for taxpayers,” said Grossi. “Furthermore, conservation programs help the United States comply with its obligations under the WTO because the programs maximize long-term environmental benefits rather than increase production.” LINK
Where has Richard Pombo been? There is a lot of work that needs to be done in Washington, DC on behalf of the residents of CD-11. Fighting for funding that helps small farmers and ranchers in the district to find both economic and environmentally-sound solutions to their problems should be one of Mr. Pombo’s top priorities. Instead, he has used his political capital pursuing an extremist property rights agenda which does almost nothing to benefit the citizens of his district. Clearly, the congressman is no friend to family farmers and ranchers.
And yet, Democrats have too easily assumed that Richard Pombo is the darling of the agricultural community. My advice to the Democratic candidates is to get involved with groups representing small farmers and ranchers; listen to their problems, their proposals, their goals. You might find out that you truly have much in common. It could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.