In a recent conversation, poultry grower Craig Watts spoke to us candidly (as he always does) about why he answered RAFI’s call years ago to help lead the way for farmers like himself.
“I preach to my kids about justice,” he said. “If I don’t do it, I can’t preach it.”
From the moment we reached out to Craig, he has helped us amplify decades of working for fairness in contract agriculture. He is a prime example of a farmer who thinks strategically and advocates personally for change. His life reflects first-hand the hopes and dreams of growers who have both everything to win and everything to lose in this struggle.
Craig has been pushing for full protections in the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration while holding poultry companies accountable. The current regulatory structure allows contracts to be essentially terminated at will by the companies, allowing them to increase and decrease production capacity without cost or ramifications. Frequently, the companies take all that the farmer owns as collateral. Not just the farm, but the home, the possessions and almost everything that the person owns.
“I don’t think about the money,” Craig said. “I think about these people losing everything they’ve got. There is risk in everything, but they did not fail on their own. They failed because of other people making decisions for them.”
In August 2011, the Raleigh News & Observer published an editorial written by Craig. In it, he responded to the then-recent closing of a Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Siler City, NC.
“There is one major factor in these plant closings that is rarely discussed in the media,” he wrote, “and that is how undisciplined the poultry industry is when it comes to supply management.”
Throughout the years, Craig’s voice has been a witness to farmers seeking help. He has become our unofficial phone bank, taking calls from farmers in crisis. Craig documents the calls in confidence, making specific details and cases currently off the record. He has worked with farmers in desperation. The stories he hears share a similar thread in empty promises and forceful demands by poultry companies, leaving farmers exasperated, at the brink of losing all hope, and left with nothing but an enormous debt.
In 2012, Craig wrote:
“Poultry is unique in many aspects even to other agricultural contracts. RAFI is the only organization I have ever witnessed that knows how onerous conditions are for us, the small farmer. And each issue they have attacked on our behalf. Whether it be in the press, local and state governments or Washington, DC, it is comforting to know that you have the support of such an organization.”
The plight of the farmer is a direct human cost of policies not properly executed and protections being rescinded. But in the midst of this dire crisis, there are people like Craig. His strong voice empowers his peers to speak up for what is right, and to get what they deserve. And that gives us all hope. For that, we can’t thank him enough.
To nominate your favorite farmer or food hero for RAFI’s 30 Days of Thanks, click here.Follow along every day at rafiusa.org/30daysofthanks
YES! I will make a gift to RAFI in support of contract agriculture reform.
Thank you for choosing to donate to RAFI’s Contract Agriculture Reform. With your support, we can make a big difference in pushing for a just and fair world for family farmers.
Make an Online Donation
Online donations are processed through Click & Pledge, a secure, third-party provider. Online donations can be made with a Discover, MasterCard or Visa card. >Click here to make a one-time online donation.
Send a Donation in the Mail
To send a donation in the mail, please send a personal check or money order payable to RAFI to the address below. Please do not send cash. Send a check to: RAFI-USA, PO Box 640, Pittsboro, NC 27312
Make A Donation over the Phone
To make a donation with a credit card over the phone call us at (919) 542-1396, ext. 212.
Your gift is 100% tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.
Financial information about Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA and a copy of our North Carolina solicitation license are available from the Charitable Solicitation Licensing Section at 888-830-4989. This license is not an endorsement by the state of North Carolina. Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, PO Box 640, Pittsboro, NC 27312
This week I find myself at the Drake Forum on America’s New Farmers. This great conversation is drawing people from across the US, as well as members of the current administration to engage in this conversation about how we can bring new farmers to the land. It is inspiring to hear Tom Vilsak, the USDA Agriculture Secretary, speak directly to the issues that many of us have worked on our whole careers.