Guest Columnist

America needs farmers, but not the Iowa Farm Bureau

Former Iowa Hawkeyes head football coach Hayden Fry (center) acknowledges the crowd after Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (right) read a proclamation honoring Fry for his America Needs Farmers awareness campaign during a radio broadcast at the seventh annual Fry Fest Iowa Hawkeyes celebration at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Iowa, on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. Newly hired University of Iowa president Bruce Harreld is at right. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Former Iowa Hawkeyes head football coach Hayden Fry (center) acknowledges the crowd after Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (right) read a proclamation honoring Fry for his America Needs Farmers awareness campaign during a radio broadcast at the seventh annual Fry Fest Iowa Hawkeyes celebration at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Iowa, on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. Newly hired University of Iowa president Bruce Harreld is at right. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

I’m a proud University of Iowa grad, and while I’ve lived in Iowa for several years, I remain intimately connected to land in North Dakota that my grandpa began farming almost 100 years ago. I agree with the Iowa Farm Bureau — America Needs Farmers. But due largely to their lobbying efforts, things have gotten much worse on the family farm since the Farm Bureau first began their ANF campaign. Why should we continue to buy into it?

In the 1980s, when Hayden Fry first joined forces with the IFB, American farmers were making about 37 cents on the dollar. Today, they’re making an average of 15. According to Austin Frerick, writing in The American Conservative, the stranglehold that megacorporations have on small farmers has only grown tighter as a direct result of the IFB’s lobbying efforts. Ag monopolies continue to dictate not only the price a farmer gets, but in many cases, how farmers can feed, raise, and slaughter their livestock, and where they can buy seed. By their own admission, the Iowa Farm Bureau notes that the number of farms in Iowa has shrunk markedly since the ANF campaign began, as the few remaining farms get bigger. The IFB passes this off as a model of “efficiency,” but for whom?

All over the country, farmers hear “go big, or get out.” Iowa politicians and the IFB tout their efforts in championing renewable fuel standards that prioritize growing corn for fuel and plastics, over diversification on a small farm. They promote practices that support large-scale animal confinements over grazing methods that restore our land and are more humane for animals. It seems the IFB and our elected officials are doing very little to make it profitable to produce food on a small, biologically diverse farm. While the average level of nitrate contamination in Iowa’s private wells has nearly doubled since 2002, according to the Environmental Working Group, the IFB continues to lobby for farming practices that poison our water and land. Officials in Griswold, Iowa, now caution residents against using tap water to make baby formula, because it has become so contaminated with agricultural runoff.

With only 5 percent of Iowans now living on farms, Iowa desperately needs farmers. But it seems to me the Iowa Farm Bureau is doing them no favors. We the Hawkeye fans and consumers must vote for officials who will empower our farmers to stay on their land growing food and raising livestock in sustainable ways. We must vote for politicians who support antitrust laws that will break up industrial agriculture monopolies, and allow small farmers to get a fair price for their products. We must reward farmers with incentives for restoring their wetlands, woodlands, and prairie, and raising crops and animals in step with nature.

Our nation’s food security, and access to clean water and healthy soil, depend upon farming practices that are sustainable in the long-term. I urge the University of Iowa to cut ties with the Iowa Farm Bureau, and instead form partnerships with grass roots organizations like the Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Iowa Farmers Union — organizations fighting to defend and strengthen the independent family farm. And you, the consumer? Please reconsider buying that ANF sweatshirt. Spend your dollars at the local farmers market instead.

Lisa Petrie of Iowa City earned her MLS at the University of Iowa in 1994.

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