The family farmer loses again…the trashing of the Farmer Fair Practice Rule

When Secretary of Agriculture Perdue announced that the USDA will move forward with trashing the newly implemented “Farmer Fair Practice Rule” I feel he sent a clear message to America that the USDA is solely on the side of the four major chicken giants in America: Tyson, Perdue, Pilgrims, and Sanderson Farms.

The Farmer Fair Practice Rule was a very small victory that would have provided the most basic of protections for America’s family farmers. The rule was completed by our own KFU friend, Larry Mitchell, in his former role as Administer of GIPSA under the instructions of Secretary Vilsack.

As NFU president Roger Johnson stated:

“It is deeply disappointing that USDA did not side with family farmers in the long-contested debate over rules for the Packers and Stockyards Act. The Farmer Fair Practices Rules offered a basic, yet important first step to addressing the unfair practice that family farmers and ranchers face in the extremely consolidated meat packing industries.

“The withdrawal of the competitive injury rule is unjustified, given the long-held, plain language interpretation by the Department that growers do not need to prove harm to the entire industry when seeking relief from poultry companies for unfair contract practices. It is particularly egregious given the abuses that poultry growers face in the vertically integrated marketplace.

“With this decision, USDA has given the green light to the few multinational meatpackers that dominate the market to discriminate against family farmers. As the administration has signaled its intent to side with the meat and poultry giants, NFU will pursue congressional action that addresses competition issues and protects family farmers and ranchers.”

It was reported to me that as the rules were being debated Kansas’s own Senator Pat Roberts was one of the most outspoken critics of the proposed rule constantly harping on the potential litigation costs for the industry.

As an observer stated to me, “If the system is wrong and it takes the courts to set it right, then the costs argument is simply an attempt to keep what is wrong forever wrong.”

In 2015, John Oliver, the comedian journalist who hosts “Last Week Tonight” on HBO aired an episode on the serious problems with contract poultry growing (Kansas Congressman Yoder was on his wall of shame). That national program actually brought enough public attention to the issue that we finally started getting some traction to move forward on addressing the problems with contract growing and growers’ rights.

As the proposed Tyson chicken complex is debated here in Kansas I feel that every Kansas farmer that is considering signing a contract with Tyson to grow chickens for them should have to mandatorily watch the John Oliver episode:

On Monday of this week, I had the opportunity–along with several others, to meet with Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. One of the questions raised to him was what responsibility and role the state of Kansas, through the Attorney General’s office, had in protecting Kansas farmers rights who might choose to grow chickens for Tyson under contract. My interpretation of his evasive response was that it was very clear to me his office, and thus the state of Kansas, has no interest in protecting the rights of contract growers here in Kansas.

Now that the USDA has declared their support for the corporations and in my interpretation the state of Kansas is also supporting the corporations, the potential Kansas contract growers that might supply the Tyson plant are totally on their own. If you are a potential contract grower for Tyson you might keep this in mind… Good luck.

In this issue is a letter sent to me by the Administrator of GIPSA before Larry Mitchell, J. Dudley Butler. He really lays it on the line.