[imgcontainer] [img:hallet1.gif] [source]Bill Bishop/Daily Yonder[/source] It was the fourth Sunday in March yesterday, so that made it the South Texas Sausage and Polka Fest in Halletsville, Texas. There were four polka bands, and halfway through the afternoon, they all mounted the stage (along with any other musicians who wanted to join in). This spritely couple just kept on dancing. [/imgcontainer]

“Big Agriculture flexes its muscle,” says the headline in Politico. 

Ag writer David Rogers then lists the ways:

Congress holds the purse strings, but who holds Congress these days when it comes to farm policy: the meatpackers and Monsanto?

So it seemed last week as lawmakers sent the White House an updated budget for the Agriculture Department complete with industry-backed orders on how Secretary Tom Vilsack should run the place.

Rogers is referring to a series of moves by the ag industry to shape the federal government to its liking. For example:

1) The meat lobby won an amendment in the Senate that would cut funding from a school breakfast program in order to insure that there is enough money to keep food safety inspectors on the job this summer. There were fears that federal cuts would cause some meat processing plants to close down.

2) Despite the efforts of Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, there is (again) no money in the budget to implement reforms from the 2008 Farm Bill that would provide market protections for small ranchers and farmers. The bill even orders Sec. Vilsack to rescind regulations enacted last year that protect chicken growers who work under contract for large meat companies. 

Rogers writes that even the American Farm Bureau opposed this action. “It’s almost as if the poultry companies are sending the signal through Congress: ”’you can’t touch us,’” said Steve Etka, who represents a coalition of growers.

“It doesn’t get much lower than that,” said Mike Weaver, a 61-year-old West Virginia chicken farmer. “They should all be ashamed. Anyone who could do that doesn’t have much integrity or soul.”

3) Congress passed what some call the Monsanto Protection Act. The rider to the budget bill orders the Secretary to “immediately grant” permits for growers to continue using genetically modified seeds regardless of any court action. “Monsanto flexed its muscle and won,” said attorney Bill Snapes, who serves as counsel to the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.

“Secretary Vilsack has asked the Office of General Council to review this provision,” the department told POLITICO, “As it appears to pre-empt judicial review of a deregulatory action which may make the provision unenforceable.”

Rogers is good at naming how these bills were passed. (Readers in Arkansas and Missouri might be interested.) And who opposed these measures.

“We’re back to square one with the big meatpackers calling the shots,” Sen. Tester told his colleagues.

“These provisions are giveaways, pure and simple, and will be a boon worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country,” Tester said. “They deserve no place in this bill. We simply have got to do better on both policy and process.”

Huge Changes for IHS — Mark Trahant writes that there are “huge changes” ahead for the Indian Health Service. There will be less money coming into the IHS directly, but there will be more people eligible for Medicaid or reduced-cost insurance purchased through health exchanges. 

Friends of Coal Miners — Carl Shoupe, a retired miner, writes that coal communities need friends, too: 

Some of our Eastern Kentucky legislators may be friends of giant coal corporations, but they sure aren’t friends of coalfield communities working to protect what we have left.

Kentucky needs more leaders who are less worried about being friends of coal and more determined to be friends of miners and the mountains that are our home. We need leaders who are worried about our children’s future instead of their next election. We need leaders who will commit to helping us build the bright future we deserve — and can have if we work for it.

I believe in Appalachia’s and Kentucky’s bright future. I’m ready to do my part.

U.S. Manufacturing — It’s not coming back, writes Brad Plumer in the Washington Post. 

Remembering the AAM — There will be a reunion of the American Agriculture Movement June 12-13 at the American Museum of Agriculture in Lubbock, Texas. Anyone who remembers (or has heard of) “tractorcades” is recalling the AAM. The Museum writes:

Many in the agricultural community remember the American Agriculture Movement of the late 1970s, including the dramatic tractorcade to Washington, D.C.  The individuals that created and executed this grassroots lobbying movement came from communities all across the nation.  It’s an amazing piece of agricultural and American democracy history, and the story should be preserved.

The American Museum of Agriculture in Lubbock, Texas, is hosting a reunion of AAM participants and their families June 12-13, 2012 to capture these stories for future generations.  In partnership with the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech and numerous volunteers, the two day reunion will allow participants to reminisce while their memories are preserved on film and audio recordings.

The event began with an idea by Davon Cook, daughter of AAM member Dan Taylor from Ropesville.  Cook explains, “Many people from my community were very active in AAM.  I vaguely remember the events as a child but more recently, I used to sit around the cotton gin office listening to them tell the great stories of their experiences.  I kept thinking someone should be recording this.  Unfortunately, several of those folks have already passed on, but I want to make sure we capture it now before it’s too late.”

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