(Cedar Rapids, IA) Vice President Al Gore on Wednesday said American farmers need a cash infusion from the government as well as adjustments in federal farm programs, however Gore provided few specifics during a meeting with Iowa farm leaders.
Gore did not sketch out how large or in what manner cash payments might be made to farmers, but he did suggest he would meet with Congressional leaders and the U.S.Ag Secretary as an aid package is developed.
“Right now, we’re facing a situation where we have got to respond and respond quickly and give farmers the assistance that’s needed not just to help the farmers but because all of the American people stand to lose if we allow the short-term crisis to drive thousands of small family farmers into bankruptcy and off the farm, leaving an industry that is even more dominated by the large corporate interests,” Gore said.
The concerns about corporate-domination of agriculture were echoed by farmers around the horse-shoe-shaped table.
“The corporate powers that be have effectively ruined farms as we know it in Iowa,” said Mary Krier, a farmer from southeast Iowa’s Keokuk County.
Gore said he wants a “conclusion speedily” to the U.S.D.A.’s evaluation of the Loan Deficiency Payment system for grain which now, some farmers charge, shows regional favoritism in price.
Gore advocated a re-write of the 1996 Farm Bill which set up a system of declining federal price supports and gave farmers greater freedom to make planting decisions. However, Gore said that re-evaluation should not happen until after an emergency aid package is passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton.
“Rather than concentrate on a heated debate over changes in the structure of farm policy, right now we need to concentrate instead on the cash flow crisis that farmers are facing in the next few months in order to survive,” Gore said.
The group of farmers and ag educators offered a wide variety of suggestions to Gore, ranging from a call for a three-year “Soil Reserve Program” to help farmers who wish to grow organic crops to a joking suggestion that grain be dumped in the sea to reduce surplus stocks and thereby boost prices of corn and soybeans which have hit record lows.
“No end seems to be in sight,” said Iowa Ag Secretary Patty Judge, a democrat who sat in on the meeting. “It’s making a lot of farmers very nervous.”
Judge called on the federal government to offer cash assistance to farmers. But that, she said, would only help in the short-term. For permanent assistance, Judge said, federal officials need to open foreign trade markets to move American commodities.
Earlier Wednesday, Gore continued his anti-crime emphasis by calling for additional federal assistance to fight crime in Rural America. Standing in front of a garage used a year ago as a clandestine lab to make the dangerous drug “methamphetamine,” Gore pledged to hire 100 new D.E.A. agents “specifically trained and assigned to rural areas.”
In addition, Gore called for extending high tech, crime-fighting computer software to rural law enforcement agencies, free of charge. He also proposes doing away with the required “match-money” for small, rural towns which land one of the 50,000 new officers Gore wants to hire for “community
Gore’s rural crime announcement was staged on a farm near the fastest growing town in Iowa, the Des Moines suburb of Waukee. The farm is quickly being surrounded by expensive homes, and it was during a routine patrol of the area in May, 1998, when a local deputy smelled the ether which is a component of “meth.”
“When a problem like methamphetamine can strike at a community like this, you know that we’ve got to strike back hard in a determined way and win this battle,” Gore said.
Gore spent Tuesday and Wednesday canvassing Iowa from west to east, meeting with supporters and other democrats who have not committed to either him or Bill Bradley, the Democrat challenging Gore for the party’s presidential nomination.