Why Farmer Advocates Are Needed (And why not to play cards with one)
August 19, 2011
Last week I had the privilege of listening to farmer advocates who have worked with thousands of farmers around the nation for the past 25 years to find refinancing, get loans, appeal bad loan decisions, create new business plans, start markets and cooperatives, and much more.
Almost all of the farmer advocates I listened to last week had gray hair. Most were farmers themselves. And every one is tenacious. Scott Marlow with Rural Advancement Foundation International , who co-sponsored the meeting with Farm Aid, tells of witnessing a card game among the advocates that went on for hours, because every single player was absolutely unwilling to lose.
It takes that sort of passion to be a farm advocate. One North Carolina advocate I met, Benny Bunting, helps farmers who were wrongfully denied farm loans — with an 80% success rate in his appeals! One Latino farmer had four times been denied a loan for no legitimate reason; with this advocate’s help, the farmer got the loan. Farmer advocates like Mr. Bunting have helped thousands of farmers stay on the farm, but their efforts are working against the direction of current federal agricultural policy.
We are at a crossroads right now in our national discussion about farm policies. One of the few hopeful things to come out from this summer’s budget fights is the recognition that we cannot justify paying absentee farmers hundreds of thousand dollars in un-earned subsidies. But others propose to cut funding for farm lending, which has always been central to helping farmers through turbulent times, and House Republicans propose to cut conservation programs. Do they think we don’t need to protect the soil that is the foundation of our nation’s current and future food security or the water that we need to live? Does Congress care about the support structure that helps farmers and rural communities thrive?
Farmer advocates are inspiring people who give their passion and talents to help keep farmers in business. If only Congress would cooperate with policies that support farmers of all sizes, protect their land and water, and support the financial solvency of their rural communities, perhaps we wouldn’t need so many of them.