Giving Farming Back to the Farmers: Vilsack’s Challenge and USDA’s Reflection

Feb 21, 2024

Since the 1973 Farm Bill promoting Get Big or Get Out, the US has lost over 500,000 family farms. Big Ag Companies have exploited farm policy for 50 years through unethical behaviors. It’s time to face this history and change.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack challenged attendees of USDA's Ag Outlook Forum to consider the consequences of fewer U.S. farms.

“Ask yourself whether you’re okay with losing a half million farms in a lifetime. Ask yourself if you’re okay with America losing 165 million acres of land that was in farming that’s no longer in farming. Ask yourself if it’s okay for us to just simply focus on the top seven or ten percent.”

However, peering into this reflection, it becomes apparent that Vilsack himself must engage in introspection, examining the USDA farm policies of the past fifty years. USDA farm policy has been a constant detriment to sustaining family farms. It started with the 1973 Farm Bill financing the Get Big or Get Out guideline. This bill opened the door for Big Ag corporations to take over the farming economy.. T H. Harbinger's books The Farm Program and America's Dairyland ( illustrate these events through the lives of farmers and educators attempting to survive and improve the system.

The finger of blame points not just outward but inward, to the very institution tasked with nurturing American agriculture. The USDA's farm policy of the past half-century, beginning with the ominous 1973 Farm Bill, has been a consistent detriment to sustaining family farms. This legislation, under the guise of financing, birthed the infamous "Get Big or Get Out" guideline, inadvertently paving the way for Big Ag corporations to dominate and reshape the farming economy.

In the pages of T. H. Harbinger's book "The Farm Program," the story follows the lives of farmers and educators navigating the treacherous landscape of shifting policies. These policies to favor Big Corporations over the small farm began was initiated with Richard Nixon and maximized by Ronald Reagan. The 1973 Farm Bill opened a door that, once ajar, allowed the relentless influx of Big Ag corporations into the heart of American farming. The consequences were profound: family farms faced extinction, and the agricultural landscape underwent a seismic shift toward corporate control.

T. H. Harbinger's Insight: Illuminating the Dark Corners

T. H. Harbinger's books, particularly "The Farm Program" and "America's Dairyland," serve as illuminating chronicles of the impact of farm policies on the lives of farmers and educators. These narratives, found on peel back the layers of history, offering a deep dive into the struggles and triumphs of those attempting to survive and improve a system in the grip of transformation.

Harbinger's books provide clear insights into the historical context, concise narratives of farmers navigating policy challenges, compelling stories of resilience, and credible reflections on the evolution of American agriculture.

As Congress navigates the crossroads of American agriculture, it's crucial to acknowledge not only Vilsack's challenge but also the historical missteps embedded in the USDA's policies. The journey forward demands a blend of introspection, accountability, and the wisdom gleaned from literary guides like T. H. Harbinger.

In the coming chapters of American agriculture, change starts by learning from the past, questioning the present, and scripting a future that safeguards the legacy of family farms and cultivates a resilient, sustainable agricultural landscape. Can Ag Secretary Vilsack be held to his words:

“Not just for what they do, but for who they are. If we ask ourselves (these questions) I think we will begin to aim higher. We’ll begin to figure out how government, through a farm bill, through a budget, through the Commodity Credit Corporation, through the (Inflation Reduction Act), through all of the tools, can keep every farmer in mind.”,you%20are%20too.%E2%80%9D

If history has shown anything, it's that this statement is more words than action to give farming back to the farmers.

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