Keep It Rural

By Bryce Oates – Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Executive Action on Corporate Power, Biden’s Take

The Biden administration delivered an executive order Friday afternoon (much to the dismay of the waiting-for-the-weekend news media) “promoting competition within the American economy.” The order signals this administration’s approach to taking on corporate concentration and corporate control over markets.

In rural America, Biden’s order is appearing to be quite popular, particularly the sections about corporate agribusiness. Matt Stoller, an expert and writer on populist economic policies, analyzed the situation this way:

What’s far more interesting is the amount of praise from traditionally rightwing rural groups. The American Farm Bureau, which is quite Republican-leaning, tentatively praised Biden for the right-to-repair mandate letting farmers fix their own equipment, as well as his attempt to do something about consolidation in the food supply chain. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, yet another right-leaning group, came out in support, attacking the big four meatpackers and calling Biden’s order an ‘important step.’

The Montana Farmers Union was supportive, as was the National Corn Growers Association and Family Farm Action, and the National Grange, a traditional agricultural lobby group that has existed since the 19th century.

The order specifically addresses agriculture in that it:

  • Directs USDA to consider issuing new rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act making it easier for farmers to bring and win claims, stopping chicken processors from exploiting and underpaying chicken farmers, and adopting anti-retaliation protections for farmers who speak out about bad practices.
  • Directs USDA to consider issuing new rules defining when meat can bear “Product of USA” labels, so that consumers have accurate, transparent labels that enable them to choose products made here.
  • Directs USDA to develop a plan to increase opportunities for farmers to access markets and receive a fair return, including supporting alternative food distribution systems like farmers markets and developing standards and labels so that consumers can choose to buy products that treat farmers fairly.
  • Encourages the FTC to limit powerful equipment manufacturers from restricting people’s ability to use independent repair shops or do DIY repairs—such as when tractor companies block farmers from repairing their own tractors.

This executive action on corporate agribusiness was supplemented by a USDA announcement of $500 million in American Rescue Plan funds that will expand livestock processing capacity “so that farmers, ranchers, and consumers have more choices in the marketplace.” In addition, USDA announced $150 million in support for existing small and very small processing facilities.

Working in and around the family farm/sustainable agriculture/local food world for more than twenty years now, I have to agree that the president’s order is incredibly popular. Helping build a supply chain of smaller butcher shops in small towns is popular. Improving country-of-origin labeling on food is incredibly popular, both among farmers and the general population alike. Improving and enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act is one of the third rails of farm politics.

Politically, I do think this signifies an opportunity for Biden and the Democrats to show that they are listening to the demands of farmers concerned about corporate power in agriculture. That said, plenty of Republicans are jumping on board this time, instead of fighting some of these same policies that were set in motion during the Obama era.

Maybe that marks recognition of a clear bipartisan (or nonpartisan) majority on aggressive antitrust enforcement. Or maybe it’s just for show and political expediency. Either way, populist economic policies had a good day Friday. And the activists, organizers and advocates who have called for these changes for the last few decades should give themselves a nice round of applause. This might not be a new era of trustbusting and economic democracy, but it could be a reversal of years of cutting antitrust regulations and standards that benefit extractive corporations.

Rural Reading List

So many good things to read this week, so little time. My picks for getting up to speed on current rural issues: 

Environmentalists Continue Battle With Lawmakers, Pork Industry Over Biogas From Hog Waste

The world’s largest hog producer and processor is trying to get into the “renewable energy” business. Sounds good, but lots of locals say it doesn’t address the core problem of liquid manure pollution.

Commentary: Looking Out For Our Rural Neighbors

Daily Yonder Columnist Donna Kallner offers up some guidelines and advice for checking in on your rural neighbors.

The Smoke Comes Every Year.
Sugar Companies Say the Air Is Safe

This ProPublica investigation into vast burning of sugar cane fields in Florida is not to be missed. Might want to also check out ProPublica’s response to criticism from Big Sugar.

Civilian Climate Corps Would Be a Win-Win for Climate and Equity

This op-ed promoting big investment in a renovated CCC could put thousands of people at work to solve climate challenges, like reducing the potential for forest fires. Much of the work would be done in rural communities.

One More Thing: Sending State Law Enforcement to the U.S.-Mexico Border?

I certainly understand that politics is full of pre-arranged photo-ops and rather meaningless gestures a lot of the time. But sometimes, a stunt comes along that is just too juicy to overlook. Take the Tri-State Governors’ Conference (Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, all Republicans) announcing that they are spending state resources to send law enforcement and National Guard deployments to “fight crime” along the Mexico-Texas border.

The number of people deployed is only around 100 for the three states combined, but as with so many things, it’s the thought that counts. These three rural state governors are likely collaborating to make some kind of point that the states are filling in for a “void of federal leadership” when it comes to “fighting crime on the border.”

The Biden administration, after all, has stopped building former President Trump’s border wall. Republican Governors appear to be stepping in to keep this Republican talking point alive and newsworthy by throwing a bit of token support to the “embattled state of Texas.” And the issue of what to do about the very-unfinished border wall will remain with us for years to come. That’s unfortunate, since the thing is an ecological and cultural monstrosity with very little, if any, effectiveness as a deterrent to border crossing.

We’re gonna be cleaning up this border wall mess for years, Keep It Rural readers. And no doubt we’ll continue to be reminded of that by the wall’s biggest promoters, a vast majority of whom don’t live anywhere close to the border region.

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