Dear Mr. President,
I am a ninth-generation family farmer in Snow Hill, North Carolina. For 18 years, my family and I worked under a contract to raise chickens on land that has been in my family for nearly three centuries. In 2003, Perdue Farms cancelled our contract and the contracts of many other farmers in the region, moving to another area to cut costs on slaughterhouse operations. In doing so, they inflicted huge financial losses and buried us in debt. I’ve managed to barely hang on to the family farm for now, but many others have not been so lucky.
Mr. President, poultry farmers desperately need your help.
Just last month, big chicken companies succeeded in lobbying the USDA to delay implementing one of its “Farmer Fair Practice Rules” by 180 days, which would have ended some of the most deceptive practices in our industry. These corporations continue to push aggressively against fairer contracts for smaller-scale poultry farmers, preferring the current system of exploitation for profit.
Last week, 10 members of Congress sent a letter to your Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, asking him to cancel the rules altogether. According to the Federal Elections Commission, lobbyists from the National Chicken Council, Tyson Foods, and other industry interests have donated more than $90,000 to this group of lawmakers, including Congressman David Scott (D-Georgia) ($27,500) and Congressman Doug Collins (R-Georgia) ($23,800).
Mr. President, this is the swamp you promised to drain on the campaign trail. I urge you to work with Mr. Perdue to implement the Farmer Fair Practice Rules as soon as possible.
If implemented, the rules would fix unfair payment mechanisms that are standard in the industry, introduce more transparency and allow farmers to sue companies for deceptive practices (currently, a farmer must prove that an unfair action by a chicken company impacted the entire industry and every other chicken farmer nationwide).
In their letter, these congressmen claim that the Farmer Fair Practices Rule will cost too much and will be burdensome on the industry. This is simply not true. The true burden is the current cost that this industry places on farmers, farm families, and rural communities by making their independent businesses riskier and less profitable.
For a poultry farmer, return on investment is significantly less today than in the 1990’s, and contract poultry farmers are more indebted than any other farmer group. It now requires 15-20 years to pay off the initial construction loan on a chicken house. The poultry companies, however, have virtually no risk involved, and can walk away at any time. We need an industry model that makes farming profitable for the farmers, not on the backs of those family farmers.
You were elected president because rural communities felt you truly understood our needs. Farmers across North Carolina and the United States came to your campaign stops and heard your promise to “drain the swamp,” and to help them make a good living to provide for their families.
By pushing to implement the Farmer Fair Practice rules, you could reduce the influence of corporate lobbyists, make good on your promises to rural communities and ensure American farmers can continue to feed their families and our nation. We’re not asking for a government handout, buyout or subsidy—we’re calling on you to give us the same support you’ve shown miners in West Virginia and American Dairy Farmers.
If your goal is to show Americans that you’re working hard for rural families, there’s no better place to start.
Genell Pridgen is a ninth-generation family farmer in Snow Hill, North Carolina.