The Planted Row: The packers get a reprieve

Stan Wise Farm Forum Editor
Farm Forum

Farm work is often thankless work, and so much is on the line if it doesn’t get done.

So, when the president shows up to a Farm Bureau meeting and says “thank you” to the American farmer, the farmers will happily accept it.

The president also mentioned his support for important rural infrastructure like rural broadband internet access in his address to the American Farm Bureau Federation on Jan. 8. And rightfully so, in my opinion. Rural internet access is critical to placing rural businesses and consumers on a level playing field with their urban counterparts.

But that’s not all the president talked about.

Every night, I read to my 10-year-old daughter. Sometimes we read stories that include boogeymen and monsters. But these fictional creatures are nothing compared to the agricultural boogeyman I’ve heard about my entire life.


The mere mention of this word is enough to send farmers into spasms of rage.

Which is, no doubt, why President Donald Trump touted his withdrawal of the Waters of the U.S. Rule in his speech to the Farm Bureau members. It was a particularly onerous rule which might have required many farmers to obtain a permit before making any chemical applications on their land.

Of course, the only regulations worse than those we have to deal with are those we are afraid we might have to deal with.

Thank goodness, then, that the president also spared us from the Farmer Fair Practices Rules. These rules were scheduled to go into effect early in 2017. The new administration delayed their implementation for most of the year before finally withdrawing them. Otherwise, producers might have had a leg to stand on in disputes with their packers.

Due to the very small number of meat packers in this country, many producers of hogs, poultry, and cattle only have one nearby packer who will take their animals. In fact, in the case of the poultry and hog industry, those animals are likely to be owned by the packers already, and the producers are paid based on finished weight of their animals.

If you’ve only got one buyer for your product, it’s probably not a good idea to make that buyer angry. And if you do make the buyer angry, by asking for a better deal, why, they might send you inferior chicks and then watch as you can’t get the animals to a sufficient weight by delivery date, lowering your pay and endangering the financial health of your operation.

Or, they might force you to make upgrades to your operation that are prohibitively expensive. Heck, they might just decide not to do business with you at all. What happens, then, to your farm that has been in your family for generations? What do you do?

Well, as things stand, before you can take the packer to court, you have to prove that their actions have harmed the industry as a whole, not just your operation. That’s almost impossible to do. So, you basically can’t do anything.

The Farmer Fair Practices Rules would have let you sue the packer as long as you could prove their actions harmed your operation, a much lower legal requirement.

But as we know, regulations are evil, harmful things. We can’t have empowered producers running to the courts every time they are treated unfairly by the packers. We can’t allow such things to stand in the way of the packers’ growth.

The president didn’t mention the withdrawal of the Farmer Fair Practices Rules in his speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

He must have been too modest.