Editor's note: The following letter was sent to the Standard Democrat and to the attention of U.S. Rep. JoAnn Emerson (R-Mo.). We forwarded the letter to Emerson, whose response is being published today as well.
Dear Rep. JoAnn Emerson:
"Rural America is about farming, but it is about so much more. It is about infrastructure, job creation, access to quality affordable health care and numerous other challenges that face Americans all over the nation. The problem is, that while the rest of America has been moving forward, because of its diverse challenges, rural America has been left behind," said JoAnn Emerson. "More than ever, it is critical that we begin implementing plans that close the gap between rural America and the rest of our nation. That begins with a comprehensive approach that allows rural Americans access to the tools that are necessary for a prosperous, positive and productive quality of life."
This is a statement made by Emerson on rural America - statements is all I see that is being done about the rural American farmer. I am Jessica Potter, a recent college graduate from Southeast Missouri State University, and I am tired of all the lies and bull. My father is a high school graduate; he is a third generation farmer. This is all he knows. I was fortunate enough to have a father that encouraged me to further my education because he knows that farming is not going to be around for much longer. I was recently told by a pig buyer in West Plains that he was trying to sell hogs to a finisher in Iowa, who told him, "Why buy pigs from you (West Plains) when Canada will give them to me for free? All I have to do is pay the shipping." Because the Canadian government helps out the hog farmer of that country with subsidies. This is ridiculous! America allows its backbone to die out, then no longer will this be the America I once knew. I cannot express how much pain this brings to my father, who has broken his back for almost 40 years to raise pork for the tables of America.
Another point to add to this letter, why are hog prices as low as they were 30 years ago, when my father bought a new truck for about $2,000? This is ridiculous because the price of everything we have to buy does not go up and down with the market - it just goes up, up, up. I would like for JoAnn Emerson personally to check out the hog prices. Butcher hogs are going for about $50, feeder pigs are going for about $20 and sows and boars are around $15-$20 for 500 pounds. I will tell you a little known fact. Did you know that a 500 pound sow will make almost 400 pounds of sausage; a 500 pound boar will make a ton of pepperoni for pizzas? But I do not see the price of these two well-enjoyed items going down. Do you?
I hope this letter reaches JoAnn Emerson and not one of her many helpers, because I want this to tell the story of a small rural Missouri hog farmer that she claims she is going to help, but does nothing but allow them to be on the edge of eradication from what America was made out of.
Something needs to be done to help the hog farmer of America. I am not talking about the big corporations such as Tyson, or any other. What I am talking about is an assistance program that will help out the little man just like my father, before America is only known as a corporation.
America will become only a dream that was once a reality.
Jessica Potter Terry Potter
The challenges and frustration shared by Miss Potter very much echo the concerns of other farmers and producers - especially as the last five years of depressed prices throughout agriculture has taken its toll on their usually optimistic outlook about farming. There's no doubt that the health of the agricultural economy has a direct effect on the rest of rural America, so we must look for ways to raise the spirits and receipts of our producers. Only then will we have a solid economy in place to improve the outlook for all of rural America.
While those of us living in rural America understand that need, others do not. Two years ago, in an effort to educate others about life in rural America and how it differs from life in suburban and urban America, my colleagues and I resurrected the Congressional Rural Caucus (the Rural Caucus). As its co-chair, we determined that two of our most immediate goals were to raise awareness about the opportunities lacking in rural America and to promote social and economic policies that support and grow our rural communities for the future. We outlined a wide array of issues that needed to be addressed in rural America. Those issues included building a transportation infrastructure to bring economic development and job opportunities to smaller communities, improving access to quality affordable health care, increasing funding for our rural schools and ensuring we have access to telephone service and other infrastructure needs such as water and sewer construction.
With those goals in mind, the Caucus wrote to the President suggesting four steps that the Administration could take to speed the development of a comprehensive rural strategy. The Rural Caucus' recommendations included proposals to hold a White House Conference on Rural America, to establish a Special Assistant to the President for Rural Affairs, to appoint a designated rural policy liaison within each federal department and to create an Interdepartmental Working Group for Rural Affairs.
These issues form our core mission for a revitalized rural America. I am pleased to report that the Farm Bill approved by Congress and signed into law by the President in May contains many of the provisions that are consistent with the Rural Caucus' recommendations, including money for a White House Conference on Rural America.
With the progress made in the Farm Bill, I am optimistic that Congress and the Administration will move forward on this effort to benefit rural America.
While those things can improve the overall outlook for rural America, our farmers also need some relief from the frustrations associated with low prices and shrinking markets. As you well know, hog prices are extremely depressed and input costs, such as equipment, fertilizer, feed, energy, etc., are at historical highs. All meats have shown a major decrease in domestic demand and exports. This is not just a livestock problem, but an agricultural industry problem. Row crop farmers have been in this economic slump for five years now. It is very frustrating.
One of the major problems crippling the hog industry is the Russian Poultry Ban. Russia was the largest importer of U.S. poultry, buying approximately 44 million pounds of chicken each week. When the Russians embargoed poultry in early March due to unfair health claims, the price of poultry in U.S. groceries became much cheaper. Basic supply and demand principles took over and poultry is being consumed at a much greater rate than pork, beef or other meats. Also, as you mentioned, Canada has dramatically increased production. However, we import mostly feeder pigs for three to five months before slaughter from Canada at a rate of 60 percent, compared to pigs purchased directly for slaughter. This is a "Catch 22." We want more feeder pigs to consumer our U.S. grains, but then we have a dangerous increase of supply in the market. At the current rate, we could see a critical circumstance in shackle space.
In your letter you stated that a finisher in Iowa says hogs are free from Canada. While I am sure they weren't free, the value of the dollar yielded a comparative advantage to purchase from Canada. The exchange rate has improved over a few months ago from when it was 60 cents on the dollar. The value of the dollar has caused many of our export markets to plummet for U.S. products. This phenomenon occurred in the steel industry as well.
American farmers and ranchers produce the most efficient, affordable and safest food and fiber in the world, yet circumstances have not been favorable. I can assure you that not a day goes by that I don't hear your exact words echoed from another person or industry representative.
I am supportive of any way we can lower cold storage stocks. We must see an end to the Russian poultry ban and resume trade at pre-ban levels. We should try or consider a guaranteed local program for producer organizations to buy closed plants or start new ones. Lastly, I have strongly advocated the use of excess supply in school lunch programs both domestically and internationally.
I have shared these concerns and ideas with the Administration, both as a member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Committee and as co-chair of the Rural Caucus. As I spend time during the month of August on the 21st Annual Emerson Farm Tour, I will be talking with producers about these and other issues that affect rural America and the state of agriculture. Listening to their thoughts, concerns and ideas will provide me with even more knowledge so that when I return to Congress, we can work on both policies and programs that improve the outlook for farming and the future of rural America, as well as those that truly improve the bottom line for people right here at home.
U.S. Rep. JoAnn Emerson
Eighth Congressional District