Minnesota group joins effort to end USDA loans for hog and poultry industries

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Minnesota’s Land Stewardship Project joined a group of thousands today in calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to end lending practices aimed at expanding the hog and poultry industries.

The Land Stewardship Project and other small-farm and food activists claim (PDF) that federal loans for new or expanding specialty hog and poultry facilities have contributed to overproduction and low market prices.

At the same time, the USDA has had to spend money on the other end buying the excess pork and poultry products to get them off the market in an attempt to stabilize and lift prices.

“This cycle of promoting the expansion of corporate livestock production with taxpayer money [and] then bailing out the industry because of overproduction with taxpayer money is an irresponsible practice and must come to an end,” Rhonda Perry, a livestock and grain farmer and program director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“You can’t justify loans for new operations and more livestock when the current hog farmers are barely treading water or are going out of business all together,” she said.

The petition that the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment sent today to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asks that the USDA suspend the Farm Service Agency’s direct and guaranteed loans to new or expanding specialized hog and poultry facilities. The group claims that the petition has more than 25,000 signatures.

The Farm Service Agency’s direct and guaranteed loans for new hog and poultry building construction totaled $264 million in fiscal year 2008 and 2009, according to the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment.

On March 31, the USDA also committed $25 million to buy excess pork, and the agency committed another $30 million in September.

Now, the industry and lawmakers, including those in Minnesota, are asking that the USDA dedicate an additional $100 million.

But, Paul Sobocinski, a diversified crop and hog farmer from Wabasso and organizer for the Land Stewardship Project, called the loans “risky for both producers and the government.”

“We should not be doling out dollars for expansion when prices are so low,” Sobocinski said today in a statement. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The small-farm groups have pointed out that a move to temporarily suspend the loan program would not be without precedent.

“President Bill Clinton suspended guaranteed loans in ’99 because hog farmers were devastated by low prices and it made absolutely no sense to provide loans that further fueled consolidation in the industry and kept prices down,” said Sobocinski.

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