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Pork Producers Rally Against Hard Times

March 4, 1999
By: David Grebe
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -Missouri farmers poured out their distress on lawmakers today. State regulations, the highway plan, and collective bargaining were all major issues - but falling prices generated the most emotion.

Philip Martin, a Centralia pork producer, said pork prices have fallen to around 18 cents a pounds - while it costs 36 cents a pound to raise a hog.

"And you've still got to feed your family," Martin said. Martin said he's like lawmakers to pass a resolution asking the Justice Department to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921. Some farmers insist meat packers are violating the Act.

The Act prohibits packers from acting in a manner which "manipulates prices" or engaging in "unjustly discriminatory practices." Martin says that now many packers own a large percentage of the hogs they slaughter - and favor their own products.

"In the short run, this behavior hurts the independent producer," Martin says.

"In the long run - it means higher grocery bills." Martin expressed doubt about whether lawmakers would act - in the state or in Washington, D.C.

"Packers are tied to corporate agriculture," he said. "It's hard for these guys to say much negative about people who contribute money and help them win."

But it's not just pork prices that are falling. Soybean prices are at their lowest in 10 years - and milk prices are also falling.

Falling prices weren't the only issue as farmers swarmed through the Capitol today. State regulations, the collapse of the highway plan, and collective bargaining were also major issues.

"I'd predicted that as soon as DNR (the Department of Natural Resources) got finished with industry, they'd go after farmers," said Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau.

"Regulations make it pretty hard to pay the bills," said David Leonard, a former Vice Provost at MU who now farms in Christian County.

Kinder and the Farm Bureau are asking Gov. Carnahan to implement a thorough review of the costs of all state regulations to farmers.

Farm Bureau President Charles Kruse also called for action on behalf of rural highways. Kruse says that $4 million has been diverted from rural areas into the St. Louis region - and bad highways are threatening farm livelihoods.

The Bureau also allied itself with the Missouri State Teachers Association as an opponent of collective bargaining. Audie Cline, a California, Missouri, schoolteacher, compared the plight of farmers to those of teachers.

"Farmers have already lost their freedom," Cline said. "Today teachers may lose theirs in the House." The House voted Thursday on a bill requiring collective bargaining for teachers. Cline said MSTA has a close relationship with the Bureau, since they represent a large majority of rural teachers.

Leonard said the Bureau played a role in last year's bill to raise the bond limits for school districts.

The Bureau, which says it represents 90,000 Missouri farmers, may have its work cut out for it. They said Missouri has lost 5,000 independent farms since 1993.