AFBF muscles out competition

Steve Heyer
Letter to the Editor

All of ag speaks with one voice…  so says agriculture’s self proclaimed deity - the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).  Yet aside from the independent gene which may be the only thing farmers have in common, reality demonstrates farmers are represented by a multitude of voices and associations with missions and methodologies as diverse as any industry. 

Despite this reality, in 2018 USDA Ag Secretary Perdue sanctioned the withdrawal of the Organic Livestock & Poultry Practices rule (OLPP) accepting the profoundly extreme minority opinion put forth by organic farming’s most outspoken adversary, the AFBF.  Sec. Perdue’s decision was analogous to allowing Ford to obstruct Tesla, effectively resulting in Ford’s catch and kill of Tesla’s market share.  A year later, as this usurpation slowly bleeds out AFBF competition, this decision defines a watershed moment amidst a country espousing itself as a free market economy.  The legality of this decision remains curiously invisible without stepping back to envision the absurdity of the same happening within the auto industry.

In direct OLPP context, an imaginary Ford/Tesla comparison requires a large automotive commodity player - with only a perceived understanding of a paradigm radically different than its own - to petition the government, protectively claiming Tesla’s efforts to revise Tesla’s procedures are not germane to Tesla’s standards - absurd by all accounts.  Yet this is precisely what the AFBF had petitioned to the USDA last year against Organic – and won. 

Sec. Perdue and AFBF proclaim there’s no difference between their commodity and organic.  Through the eyes of AFBF’s confirmation bias, organic is a retrogressive incarnation of Grandpa’s farm - a mere marketing program dishonestly invoking irrational fear making their commodity look bad.   Yet the failure to find one commodity product marketed with the image of a CAFO demonstrates AFBF does indeed recognize a difference – consumers are attracted to pastoral images of Grandpa’s farm. Where else other than agriculture can a single market player’s in-house R&D statistics become gospel for an entire industry?  What other industry condones such blatant pervasive deceptive advertising?

Aside from flagrant cheaters codified by this withdrawal, farmers using organic principles recognize animal welfare standards are as germane to organic as filters and rock traps are to a combine – they both deter small preventable problems from destroying the asset. Organic welfare standards are tethered to biological and physiological ramifications induced by diversity, density and instinctive behavior.  Organic ideology is preventative - mitigating disease by managing biological potential. The NPPC alone, via it’s repudiation of the OLPP, vividly reveals the diametric chemical/pharmaceutical curative philosophy of agribusiness, claiming redundancy to their PQA’s – most all of which pertain to drug injection protocol.

Lockstep with AFBF, the DATCP’s bias against small farms is visualized when we recognize DATCP as the gatekeeper to aspiring farmers.   Compiling a statewide FFA survey will reveal the majority have no hereditary path to farming.   One million dollars buys 250 acres – insufficient for commodities.  Diversified livestock can provide a living from small holdings if allowed to process and sell direct to consumers.  Farmers discover DATCP will allow on farm processing at hobbyist income levels:  999 chickens; zero of other livestock – even if this farm-to-consumer decision is mutually agreeable between consenting adults;  150 laying hens is “large” requiring a food processing plant license.  Custom processors are diminishing, lead times are approaching one year, processing costs are rising. With custom processing saturated, paradigm-biased regulations stifling new processors and DATCP restricting all but hobbyist levels, DATCP has induced a virtual stranglehold on Wisconsin’s non-commodity potential.  Compare DATCP’s industry-protective legislation to another state agency – DIHLR - whose Ind 22.14 allows Innovative Building Designs to proceed unobstructed by industry norms.

All of this is currently playing out on small farms, farmer’s markets and supermarkets. Dairy as the most visible supermarket example contains two price levels for USDA Organic Milk.  A gallon of Organic Valley (OV) is $7, generic organic $5. Generic has the same label as OV so consumers are buying on price.  Increasingly, OV is no longer offered.  Sassy Cow may be the last to compete against generic organic.  The low cost generic winner:  Aurora’s 4400 cow Colorado CAFO. If Aurora followed organic principles, pasture acreage would necessitate a 25 mile round trip between milkings - impossible.  Result:  Honest players are pushed out; cheaters earn premiums on fake products; consumers unknowingly pay a premium for a fake; the integrity of Organic is diminished; AFBF commodities recapture market share. 

And what was Ag Secretary Perdue’s response to the concerns put forth by small organic producers?  If you believe in socialism, you probably ought to export your operation somewhere.” 

The duplicity of Perdue’s statement defines his character – this condescending civics lesson a slight-of-hand reminding of a free market defined by survival of the fittest.  Yet this correlation to socialism was made by a man who affiliates and administrates preferential policy favorable to AFBF and other agribusiness associations - most all of whom remain viable only because of socialism.  Mr. Perdue himself has received $278,000 worth of socialism.  Pertinent to Perdue’s behavioral bias in his current USDA capacity, it is prudent to remind that Mr. Perdue was the previous owner of the fertilizer and chemical business currently operated by his son.

Hypocrisy is not a crime.  It is the reflection of a human-being who expects others to do as I say, not as I do.    As individuals, it is inherently natural to look out for our own best interests.  It is another thing entirely, when those personal and affiliated interests are egregiously enhanced through Perdue’s capacity as USDA Ag. Secretary. 

If it is not yet abundantly apparent: Organic farming methods are detrimental to the shareholders of commodity foods, seeds, chemicals, fuels and fertilizers.  The small scale farming sector that Sec. Perdue correlated to socialism remains one of the few sectors in agriculture actually capable of sustaining itself without subsidy.  These small scale independent farms are currently being muscled out by the organized, scripted and protective transgressions put forth by the American Farm Bureau Federation. 

The Heyer family own and operate a pasture-based diversified livestock farm in Waterford, WI, incorporating their organically raised forage with certified organic feed in raising beef cattle, hogs, broilers and layers for local families.

Note: Letters to the Editor and editorial commentaries do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin State Farmer. The opinions expressed are the author's own.