To the editor,
The closing of the Landus Cooperative facility in Scranton will be a difficult and costly change for the area farmers and for the community. I commend Dawn Rudolph for writing her heart-felt op-ed in the April 10 edition of the Scranton Journal about this sad news. Although I lost my race for county supervisor against Dawn, I am glad to know that someone who cares so much about her community is in that position.
As often happens, we don’t make connections to issues until we are directly affected. Dawn’s comments are made from a local, personal perspective, but they point to bigger questions of how rural Iowa has gotten to where it is today.
My childhood hometown was Bayard, and I now live near Churdan, two towns very similar to Scranton with very similar fates. Bayard and Scranton have lost their schools, huge losses to these communities. All three communities have lost most of their businesses. They struggle to provide the services that their remaining residents require.
The main driver of these changes has been the loss of many farmers and their families, the backbone of rural communities. One of my favorite sections of the Bayard News Gazette and the Scranton Journal is “A Glance into the Past.” At one time, about 60 years ago, the Bayard Cooperative Elevator’s annual meeting was attended by 350 people. Farmers contributed greatly to make those communities vibrant and strong.
But this isn’t news to most of us. Federal farm policies supporting cheap grain have played a big role in the loss of farm families as farmers were told to get big or get out and throwing them to the whims of the free market.
Iowa’s leaders and politicians have embraced the storyline of agribusiness. That is, farmers just need to grow more and more corn and soybeans, even though the global oversupply of grain keeps the prices lower than the cost of production.
This cheap grain system has made livestock production by packing plants, vertical integrators, and anonymous CAFO owners in LLCs very profitable. Increasing the state’s hog numbers in CAFOs to over 23 million – more than 7 times Iowa’s human population — has not helped the majority of Iowa’s farmers. Instead, these confinements create water pollution and public health issues.
Farmers are in a very stressful financial situation today. A front page headline of the Des Moines Register on Sunday, April 14, 2019 read “More Iowa farmers face credit crunch: Debt creating trouble not seen since 1980s.” As the article points out, the price of corn and soybeans is below the cost of producing those crops, and prices are predicted to stay this low for years to come. What is a farmer to do? Produce more corn and soybeans, which keeps the price of those crops low. The result is more hog confinements which are most profitable for the packing plants and vertical integrators when grain prices are low.
As Harwood D. Schaffer and Daryll E. Ray write in their weekly column, Policy Pennings, at the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, “For many down on the farm, the wolf is at the door.” They end their article with: “…how many bankruptcies will it take for our members of Congress to rethink the approach they have taken to farm policy over the last 23 years?”
Dawn also poignantly laments how the removal of the Coop’s grain silos, which have been town landmarks for decades, will change the landscape forever. This is a very valid concern – one that people all over Iowa have been making about the construction of industrial wind developments. However, the wind turbines not only change the landscape, they create noise, flicker, vibrations, and nighttime flashing lights. Driving into Greene County from the east on County Road E-26 is like entering into an alien world, cold and unfeeling and apart from nature.
Governor Reynolds recently announced a new initiative called Power Up Iowa, a propaganda machine to convince us that industrial wind energy is economic development. It is not economic development when it drives people away. What industrial wind energy does best is put our urban citizens and politicians into a state of complacency so we don’t have to change anything else about how we generate and use energy. Distributed energy generation in our communities and on our farms should be the goal.
So, what do we do to keep our farmers and encourage young farmers, which will in turn support our small towns? If ever there was a time to discard current thinking and look to a new vision, it is now, before the situation gets worse.
It is time to use our strongest voices at the state and federal level to call for a parity-supply management system that will support farmers and allow for resilient farming practices that heal the land. That would be long-lasting economic development with true environmental and social benefits as well.
Yes, decisions that affect our communities can be difficult. Communicating our vision for the future makes those decisions easier. The first step is to stop pushing people away. We can do this by putting a halt to more hog confinements and industrial wind projects in our county – and our state.
Patti Naylor, farmer