Presidential candidates have long visited Iowa to pay lip service to rural communities, donning cowboy boots on farm visits and eating deep-fried butter at the state fair. However, a true commitment to American farmers must include breaking up the food monopolies that lower the prices farmers get for their crops while raising the cost of the seeds and other inputs they buy. And at the other end of the food chain, these food monopolies reduce choices for consumers and make food more expensive. So it’s a hopeful sign that several of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have made tackling corporate control of agriculture central to their campaign platforms.
Two candidates stand out as having the strongest policies addressing these issues so far. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) commits to breaking apart recent mega-mergers between seed and agri-chemical companies, such as last year’s acquisition of Monsanto by the German chemical company, Bayer.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has pledged to tackle consolidation in the meat packing industry, which has shuttered medium-sized plants serving regional markets and reduced livestock prices for farmers. Iowa is ground-zero for extreme consolidation in the hog industry, which led to the state shedding 82 percent of its hog farms between 1982 and 2007, even as hog production ramped up due to factory farms that popped up across the state.
Sanders is going even further by seeking to reinstate our country’s grain reserve, which would buffer our food system against the growing threat of extreme weather due to climate change. A grain reserve would allow the government to buy crops during surplus years and sell them during times of drought, disaster or other conditions that drive prices up. Current farm policies encourage nonstop overproduction, leading to a steep decline in prices of crops like corn and soy that only benefit corporate buyers and the meat industry, which feeds cheap corn and soy to its factory farmed animals.
Presidential candidates have no business visiting Iowa if they are not committed to addressing the root economic and policy causes behind the loss of family farms. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have set the benchmark this election cycle on the issue, and other candidates should come out strong, too. They must make restoring a fair playing field for farmers and consumers central to their campaigns – and we must hold whomever is elected accountable for following through on his or her promises.