Letter from Langdon: Fixing to Get Agri-Ready — A Missouri campaign to undermine local protection of citizens ’ health and safety

A rally against Amendment 1, the "right to farm" amendment, held by the group Missouri’s Food for America. Photo by The Missouri Times.

Letter from Langdon: Fixing to Get Agri-Ready

By Richard Oswald

August 23, 2016

A Missouri campaign to undermine local protection of citizens’ health and safety is being marketed as being friendly to farmers. In reality, the campaign will give the upper hand to corporations over communities.

Here in Missouri we have wooded areas, fields of crops, pastures, and livestock. Farmsteads are ready to go with people, machines, and trucks to do the work. We boast of clear water and clean air, a healthy environment, and rural communities poised to grow.

We are definitely ready for agriculture.

Problem is, the agriculture we’re ready for isn’t the agriculture some of us are doing, so a group funded and made up of Missouri’s biggest producer groups and corporations, Missouri Farmers Care, is promoting a brand new brand of agriculture called Agri-Ready.

Yes, as most of us know, promotion is all about branding. Agri-Ready would give us that too, by letting us make our own Agri-Ready logos.

It’s all about the logo and being ready.

Rural Missouri counties skeptical of Agri-Ready are being branded as anti-progress and anti-agriculture. What they really are is reluctant to believe that cutting down local control and county ordinances aimed at preserving air and water quality will really improve their lives. But if these reluctant people see their way clear to join the team, then Missouri Farmers Care promises that Agri-Ready designation will bring a windfall of development and progress to those who take the plunge.

It all seems to be part of the trade deal mentality that says in order to get something, you have to give something up. In this case, what we are giving up is the right to control the direction of rural communities and who does what to whom. That’s been a problem in Missouri since Premium Standard Farms lost multiple lawsuits when it was found to be guilty of infringing on the rights of property owners surrounding Premium Standard hog confinements originally built by the founding family of Continental Grain, under the auspices of being a family farm in line with Missouri’s anti corporate farming laws of the time.

Smithfield acquired Premium Standard in 2007.

In 2013 Premium Standard changed its name to Murphy-Brown of Missouri Limited Liability Corporation, a subsidiary of Murphy Brown LLC, still a Smithfield subsidiary.

Since then conservative Missouri legislative majorities have repealed anti-corporate farming laws and nullified statutory limits on foreign land holdings in the state. That enabled the Smithfield Foods buyout, including significant Missouri assets, by Chinese government backed corporation Shuanghui.

Big Ag in Missouri has long chafed under any limits placed on industrial agriculture. When the incoming wave of conservative Republicans replaced Democratic majorities in the Missouri House and Senate, it created a perfect storm for “reform” of many things, including local control on county and city levels. That’s what happened when the Agri-Ready, a bill sponsored by District 39 Representative Joe Don McGaugh of Carrolton, was written and passed, chipping away at balky citizens and their rural rights.

I confess to watching a bit of TV in my time. This brings to mind “Let’s Make a Deal,” where contestants run the gauntlet of memorization and good luck, culminating with spinning a giant vertical roulette wheel ahead of the final round. Agri-Ready is that wheel, where rural Missouri’s communities might win, and they might not. But first things first. And the first things an Agri-Ready county must give up are health-related ordinances and regulations regarding any Ag related processing facility. Missouri’s Farmers Care assures county commissions that if they don’t play, they will most surely lose taxpayer funded state grants that other more compliant counties willing to forfeit control (assured by the state’s Constitution and legal code) will have the chance to receive.

They get to spin the wheel.

Our state has always valued its independence from federal manipulation. One thing we’re particularly proud of is turning down additional federal Medicaid funding, sending it to other more compliant states for their own needy citizens. On the surface, one would think that such a government would support similar independence by its citizens when they seek to control their own local destiny.

Or maybe not.

This isn’t the first time Big Ag and its big vision of Missouri agriculture has stepped up to the plate. It’s been a couple of years since our right-to-farm amendment to the state Constitution was passed by the slimmest of majorities. What was vaunted to be a 75 to 25 percent sure thing passage turned into near reversal when Missouri voters began learning the truth about what right-to-farm could do and who it would do it for.

It’s hard for small agricultural groups to fight these battles, especially when wealthy corporations sponsor the opposition. That’s what made the contest all the more impressive when those of us with a different vision opposed right-to-farm.

Missouri Farmers Care, the biggest of the big in Missouri, enjoys those wealthy memberships and sponsors. And they’ve used them to great advantage through advertising and political support. It’s difficult to argue with success when the most successful in our state are patent-wielding seed and chemical companies, monopolistic livestock corporations, and the organizations they love.

It’s been a few years ago, but I remember a meeting my organization, Missouri Farmers Union, held in Macon, Missouri. We were trying to do our part to explain the ins and outs of what many people saw as the end of the world; the Affordable Care Act.

After our meeting one farmer present lamented to me the stigma some people placed on raising hogs in large confinement buildings. He wanted to build a building and take a contract from one of the big meat packers doing business in the state, but none of the potential locations he could find suited him because there were private homes or businesses nearby, or they were too inaccessible.

Existing laws provided protections to people, against public nuisances or infringement on quality of air and water. It was a problem. Alas he said, he already owned the perfect location. It was along a busy highway with water, good access for feed deliveries, and inbound or outbound movement of animals. Only one thing stopped him from reaching his goal.

“I just hate to put it there because it’s going to ruin the value of that property,” he said.

I guess he wasn’t Agri-Ready.