Farm Aid, Farmer Frustration In Virginia

Thousands of farmers struggling with some of the lowest crop prices in two decades have gathered near the nation’s capital for the 15th annual Farm Aid concert, a now familiar event hosted by musicians Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp.

Today’s concert in the Virginia countryside is the highlight of a weekend of growers’ meetings with lawmakers and presidential campaigners such as Tipper Gore, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan.

Tipper Gore, wife of Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, plans to accompany Nelson on stage, playing the drums, event organizers said.

Professional acts will include Barenaked Ladies, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Alan Jackson, Arlo Guthrie and Mellencamp among others in a marathon concert to be broadcast on the Country Music Television cable outlet. The concert, in Bristow, Va., started at 2 p.m. and is expected to last until about 10 p.m.

Fundraiser for Farm Groups

Since its inception in 1985, Farm Aid has given over $15 million to more than 100 farm organizations, churches and service agencies in 44 states.

Farmers from nearly every state are due to voice their displeasure at market conditions and federal policies they feel are ruining the nation’s traditional family farm, organizers said.

Many farmers plan protests against the landmark 1996 Farm Bill that phased out most federal crop subsidy programs and is blamed for cutting government payments too sharply.

“Family farmers know what we need to fix federal farm policy, and we’ve put together a comprehensive agenda that outlines our policy demands,” said Rhonda Perry, a livestock and grain farmer from Howard County, Missouri, and member of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

“We’ve got to get rid of Freedom-to-Farm, and replace this disastrous farm bill with an effective policy that gives farmers a fair price from the marketplace and not the taxpayers,” she said.

Depressed Crop Prices

American growers are expected to get an average $1.70 per bushel for corn this harvest, the lowest price since the last major farm recession nearly 20 years ago, according to U.S. Agriculture Department forecasts. In 1997, corn commanded about $2.43 a bushel.

Perry and some other farmers are asking Congress to pass a new farm bill that will provide fair prices, restore competition to the farm and food sector, negotiate fair trade agreements instead of corporate managed trade agreements, and hold the U.S. Department of Agriculture accountable to family farms and farm groups.

In addition to a range of federal farm programs, Congress has approved $22 billion in aid for farmers since the fall of 1998. The funds were allocated to aid farmers devastated by weak commodity prices and natural disasters.

The injection of federal money has kept overall farm income at near-record levels in recent years.

The concert’s special 15th anniversary status led organizers to commemorate the milestone by issuing a double-CD of music compiled from the shows.