Family Farm Issues
Updated: May 5
Debt is crushing the agricultural industry in the United States. Farm Aid's Racheal VanBoven is here to help.
Currently in America the farm economy is draining into a downward spiral for both crop and livestock prices, that Farm Aid describes as, “A multiyear slump in crop and livestock prices that is pushing many to the financial brink… America’s farmers and ranchers have weathered a nearly 50 percent drop in net farm income, the largest four-year drop since the start of the Great Depression.”
Racheal VanBoven, a current hotline worker for FarmAid, is an information provider and guidance for many lost farmers. “I can’t fix people's problems but I think it's a skill and a value to like listen to people, believe what’s going on for them, and see if there’s a way that you can support them.” Her work involves taking long hours out of her day to provide the best, up to date answers, for any issues farmers are facing, as well as answering as many questions or concerns that, mainly, occur within the family farm industry. “Our work is ‘What is the most we can do for being a really small organization?’ And do our best to do that,” she adds. “It is hard because some of these issues are really really big.”
Due to VanBoven’s position as a hotliner, she is able to go into great detail about what Farm Aid is and what the organization does. VanBoven explains that Farm Aid is an organization that was first established in 1985 through a concert hosted by Willie Nelson to raise awareness on the problems that farmers face. This concert is a yearly event still held by Farm Aid, VanBoven says, which provides the organization with funding allowing them to fund other non-profits. These non-profit involve VanBoven’s line of work a lot, where a farmer will tell her about their problem, resulting in the process of Racheal getting into contact with a non-profit who has better expertise in solving the
farmers problem, and allows for a one on one
experience between the farmer and this professional.
These problems can range from weather like drought, to things such as abuse of corporate powers. Farm Aid describes this corporate abuse, clarifying that “A handful of corporations control our food from farm to fork. Their unbridled power grants them increasing political influence over the rules that govern our food system and allows them to manipulate the marketplace – pushing down the prices paid to family farmers and driving them out of business” (Corporate Power). An example of Farm Aid trying to give more power to farmers is the Beef Label Act. Vanboven explained to me that in America farmers that raise cattle for the use of meat will butcher the animal and package the animals parts for consumption, this results in the use of a label that gives nutrition facts and where it came from. The problems that farmers in America face is that some meats will have the USA label on them even though they were grown out of the country. This is because something happened to the meat in America resulting in it being allowed to be classified as USA grown cattle. This affects farmers because it means that the meat actually raised in America cost the same as meat raised in China, resulting in farmers getting less money from bought meat because [there are] stats that show people tend to buy more American meat than they do out of country meat.
“A handful of corporations control our food from farm to fork. Their unbridled power grants them increasing political influence over the rules that govern our food system and allows them to manipulate the marketplace – pushing down the prices paid to family farmers and driving them out of business.”
However it's not just corporate powers and weather that affects farming, it's also the economy. Recent problems that Farmers come to Rachel for involve inflation and cost of input rising. As of 2019, “Farm debt, at $416 billion, is at an all-time high. More than half of all farmers have lost money every year since 2013, and lost more than $1,644 this year. Farm loan delinquencies are rising” (Semuels). Cost of input means that farmers putting in money for growing produce cost more to buy than it does to sell.
These problems aren’t very new either, and are something that VanBoven has been dealing with since her childhood. Her family has a long history of being farmers, and it isn’t until her parent’s generation that her family has started pursuing different lines of work, and in VanBoven’s case, she no longer works to make a profit off of farming. Rather, she does her best to help provide solutions to problems that farmers have to deal with on a day to day basis. However, before VanBoven went to work at FarmAid she would earn a degree in religion. This degree has helped her be able to talk with people and listen to their problems in order to help them with whatever problems arise, a perfect set of skills for a position as a hotliner. “My degree helped me get really clear for myself on why I do this work,” VanBoven says. This new information was very evident to me as talking with VanBoven was very calming due to her ability to sit through the questions I had while being very understanding and helpful in answering any questions that I had while doing my research on the topic. This resulted in a very relaxing and enjoyable experience with her.
There are many experiences that farmers go through that make their life difficult. However because of organizations like Farm Aid, many struggling farmers are given the chance to thrive in the agricultural world. Although not every farmer will struggle, it is evident that farmers will be affected by current problems arising in the world. If a difference is what you want to make, then take a look at the work Farm Aid is doing and what it is you can do to help farmers, and people like VanBoven, in the agricultural world.
VanBoven, Racheal. Online Interview. 7 April, 2023.
Farm Aid – Keep America Growing, https://www.farmaid.org/. Accessed 26 April 2023.
“Corporate Power – Farm Aid Archives.” Farm Aid, https://www.farmaid.org/category/issues/corporate-power/. Accessed 24 April 2023.
Semuels, Alana. “American Farmers Are in Crisis. Here's Why.” Time, 27 November 2019, https://time.com/5736789/small-american-farmers-debt-crisis-extinction/. Accessed 26 April 2023.