In the face of ever increasing market concentration, many U.S. farmers are turning to contracting for economic security. RAFI’s Contact Agriculture Reform program works to ensure the contract arrangements between individual farmers and processors are fair and equitable.
Our work includes:
- Empowering farmers by providing critical information on the long-range impact of contracting in the poultry industry
- Developing and promoting state and federal reforms to protect the rights of individual contract farmers and farmer-controlled cooperatives
- Supporting active, farmer-controlled associations that can reduce the isolation and vulnerability of individual contract growers
- Educating consumers about the implications of market consolidation and vertical integration through collaboration with social justice, church, community -based, environmental, and civic organizations
- Providing analysis and technical assistance for viable market alternatives.
RAFI convenes the Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform (CCAR). Through this national alliance of organizations, RAFI works to provide a voice for farmers and ranchers in contract agriculture. The primary goal of this program is to ensure that the producer relationship is fair, balanced and transparent. Our approach enables growers to direct strategy and advocate personally for change. Currently, our efforts are directed at defending the final Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) rule and developing new strategies for broader contract fairness in agriculture. GIPSA is a USDA agency that facilitates the marketing of livestock, poultry, meat, cereals, oilseeds, and related agricultural products, and promotes fair and competitive trading practices for the overall benefit of consumers and American agriculture.
The RAFI Contract Agriculture Reform Program is an expansion of our 15 years of support for contract poultry farmers trapped in bad contracts. The poultry industry has been fully vertically integrated and dominated by contract production for almost 40 years. Poultry growers can document the evolution of contracting in the poultry industry from a mutually beneficial agreement among neighbors to a one-sided, legalized form of debt bondage.
The poultry industry model of corporate concentration, vertical integration and contract production is rapidly spreading to other commodities including pork, tobacco, beef, soybeans and other crops. Responding to these changes and drawing from the poultry experience, RAFI-USA is providing analysis of the long-term social, legal and economic impacts of the contract agriculture system and possible viable alternatives.
In addition, RAFI-USA is working in collaboration with other national farm and community organizations for reforms to protect the family farmer who turns to contract production.
Learn more about the Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform and federal contract reform initiatives.
A Campaign Win! Winning the GIPSA Rule
The final GIPSA rule went into effect on February 7, 2012. The rule extends new rights to contract farmers, who often incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and have contracts that may only last a few months.
Because of the new rule, companies can no longer force farmers to spend money on expensive equipment upgrades without proper compensation. The rule also protects farmers from subjective contract termination, and financial loss when flocks are delivered late, through no fault of the grower. In addition, the rule extends the federal Packers and Stockyards Act, which has provided some key protections for broiler chicken farmers, to now protect pullet growers and breeders as well.
After the final GIPSA rule was published, we issued a press release about the new rule that was picked up in 8 media outlets (Arkansas Democrat Gazette, AP, American Prospect, Business Alabama, Hagstrom Report, Meatingplace, Winston Salem Journal, Lancaster Farming). Three of these articles had quotes from poultry grower leaders that we work with.
In the spring of 2012, we produced a fact sheet with the Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG) and distributed it to more than 500 growers throughout the country. The mailing went to all of the growers from the eight key producers states that we visited to educate and write in comments about the proposed rule and through the grower associations. We worked with our poultry grower leadership to educate them about the final rule so that they could monitor compliance based on what they were hearing from growers that they work with.
While the new rule represents a significant policy improvement for thousands of poultry farmers, corporate groups quickly responded with well-funded congressional lobbying efforts to repeal the rule. Moving forward, we must defend the GIPSA rule.
Failure to do so would mean losing the protections won after decades of hard work. In 2013, we will work to protect the final GIPSA rule against ongoing attacks, advocate for rule enforcement, train growers on monitoring rule compliance, and advocate for comprehensive contract fairness legislation across agricultural sectors.