The Decreasing Number of Farms and Family Farmers

The story of a family farm in Iowa represents a national concern.


| May/June 1984



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The Engelkens: victims of a "conspiracy" or of financial naivete?


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

On October 26, 1983, more than 500 farmers, ranchers, and other concerned citizens gathered in St. Joseph, Missouri, for the annual conference sponsored by Acres, U.S.A., a monthly 40-page tabloid serving the ecological farming movement. [EDITOR'S NOTE: A Brief Discussion With Charlie Walters is an interview with its publisher and founder.] 

Certainly the participants had a variety of issues to discuss. Still reeling from one of the worst midwestern droughts in recent history, they faced the ramifications of the Reagan administration's economic policies, as well as chilling forecasts for American family farmers. In 1971, for example, there were 2.4 million family farms in the United States; now, there are 1.5 million. And—according to keynote speaker Chuck Perry of the Farmers and Ranchers Protective League—by 1985 the number will decline to 600,000 or less, if the government has its way.

Perry stated, "We know from internal Farmers Home Administration (FHA) documents, which were uncovered in the process of the Curry B. Block lawsuit in Georgia, that there is in fact a hidden agenda within the Department of Agriculture to reduce the number of farms and ranches in America . . . to anywhere from 500,000 to 600,000 by 1985."

And what is the supposed reasoning behind such a move? "Well, last year American agriculture, in the aggregate, took in 50 cents for every dollar it paid out . . . I guess it looks obvious to the bankers in New York that the way to solve that problem is to get rid of half of the farmers, thus guaranteeing a dollar for a dollar."

Currently some 250,000 farmers and ranchers are involved in foreclosure and liquidation proceedings. The Comptroller of the U.S. reports that, between 1950 and 1979, America lost an average of 2,000 farms a week. At that rate it won't be long before 80% of America's farmers are squeezed out of their livelihood. Such a reduction, Chuck Perry asserts, would represent the largest centralization of economic power in the history of America—in his terms, the "Sovietization of American agriculture".

Perry does have reason to know whereof he speaks. The outspoken rancher lost his farm in the Dakotas to foreclosure while he was actually ahead on his payments. It took Chuck two years in federal district court to even obtain access to his own farm's financial records. He finally won the right to review the 850 pages of files, which indeed did show he had been ahead on his payments at the time he was foreclosed. During that process, he learned that [1] "voluntary liquidation is almost never voluntary", and that [2] there are steps farmers can take to retaliate. He formed the Farmers and Ranchers Protective League to educate agriculturists about their legal rights, and to help change public policy on forced liquidations. "Usually the borrower is given an option: He is told to voluntarily liquidate or else the bank will file a criminal action for the sale of governmentally-secured property. Frankly, it's not much of an option."





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