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  • Sarah Gilliatt

History of the National Family Farm Coalition

History of the National Family Farm Coalition

By Sarah Gilliatt

The National Family Farm Coalition was founded in 1987, having grown out of the tumultuous years farmers experienced during the 1970s and 80s after Nixon ended the convertibility of the dollar into gold.  This led to high farm prices, and then in turn, in an attempt to curb that, to the federal encouragement to plant “fencerow to fencerow.”  In this way, a time of scarcity and high prices changed to the other extreme of overproduction and low prices.  Farm debt increased as farmers worked to mechanize and increase production.  Simultaneously, the New Deal farm policies of supply management and price floors were also eroded, as they were seen as “socialistic.”  Tens of thousands of farmers faced foreclosure and lost their farms.    

Given this time of farm crisis, in 1978 and 1979, the American Agriculture Movement organized a couple of tractorcades to Washington, DC to advocate for parity pricing – price floors that would restore the buying power of farm commodities and a moratorium on foreclosures.  Their pleas were not heard, and foreclosures, auctions, and farmer suicides increased.  To call attention to the crisis, in 1985, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp, together with other musicians, held the first Farm Aid Concert in Illinois to raise money for farmers.  Clearly, farmer advocacy groups needed representation in Washington to promote their interests and advocate for better farm policy.  With support and encouragement from Farm Aid, the National Save the Family Farm Coalition was established, soon to become the National Family Farm Coalition.  The early members consisted of a range of grassroots organizations, including the American Agriculture Movement, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, the Land Loss Prevention Project, Missouri Rural Crisis, the Northern Plains Resource Council, and others.  The power of a coalition of like-minded, already existing advocacy groups that represent many different states and their own, often large, memberships has contributed to the efficacy of the organization to this day. 

Over the decades, the small farm advocates working together through the NFFC have had several significant policy victories in Washington.  For example, after the 1986 United Farmers and Ranchers Congress that Farm Aid organized, which brought together 2600 representatives from hundreds of advocacy groups, the 1987 Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill, which included parity policies nearly passed Congress, defeated by the influence of trade group lobbyists. But much education was done in the process.  In 1987, the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 was passed.  It contained a number of provisions to help farmers close to foreclosure, including, for example, borrower rights, debt restructuring, and mediation.  As a result of government-guaranteed loans, 70,000 farmers were saved from foreclosure.  In 1990, the NFFC added a third core tenet to its mission: to address the serious loss of land ownership and discrimination experienced by black farmers.  They successfully advocated for the Minority Farmers Rights Act of 1990, which created Section 2501, the Program for Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers in the 1992 Farm Bill, which has been funded in every farm bill thereafter.  In 2007, Senator Paul Wellstone introduced the Food from Family Farms Act as an alternative to the Farm Bill.  Together with family farmers, NFFC crafted this Act “to ensure fair prices for family farmers, safe and healthy food, and vibrant, environmentally sound rural communities here and around the world.”  Though it didn’t get very far, there was much education and building of power for the long struggle ahead.

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