AmericanFarm.com

Thanks, but no thanks (Editorial)

(Feb. 24, 2015) Maryland Sen. Robert Madaleno, D, Dist. 18, thought he was helping chicken farmers when he introduced SB 532, deemed the Farmers Rights Act on Feb. 9.
But it doesn’t appear he asked farmers on the Eastern Shore if they needed his help.
The bill proposes to overhaul the way poultry growers are paid by the companies they contract with, how the contracts are written and what must be disclosed from the contracts. The bill would also require the contracts be submitted to the state’s Attorney General for review and actions taken by the Attorney General would not be subject to judicial review.
If he had asked growers about the issue, he would have found that chicken farmers on Delmarva by and large approve of the system by which growers are paid after finishing a flock.
The issue of grower payment, among others, was thoroughly debated in 2010 when USDA proposed new rules in its Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration.
In comments to USDA, Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.’s Grower Committee said proposals to change how growers would be paid amount to “a socialist chicken growing industry.”
“The free market system  that involves voluntary business arrangements between chicken growers and chicken  companies/live poultry dealers has worked.  We do not need more  government  intrusion into our businesses,” the comments, signed by grower committee chairman Mack McCary said. “The system that would be created by the rule will produce a socialist chicken growing industry that will stifle initiatives and hard work by growers while rewarding mediocrity. Growers who work harder will not be rewarded.  Growers who just do the minimum will receive greater pay. This is contrary to the American way.”
Not only did the 30-some growers on the DPI committee agree but no notion of opposition came from the trade group’s 1,100 member growers.
Had Madaleno, who represents Montgomery County which has no contract poultry growers, talked to just about anyone in the poultry industry, he would have learned that chicken house construction has greatly picked up and companies have issued bonus programs for new growers and new houses. And, while this won’t shock any farmer, Madeleno would have been told the contracts are voluntary agreements between grower and company.
Had the senator checked with farmers on the Shore before sponsoring the bill, he would have learned that for decades, farmers have added poultry houses to their farming operations to diversify and add stability while dealing with volatile grain markets and price swings in other crops. In the chicken business, if you manage your farm well and raise a good flock, you’ll be paid accordingly.
How many grain farmers, who rely on weather and what happens in about four states in the Midwest, can say the same?
But instead of asking farmers, Sen. Madaleno sought the blessing of Food & Water Watch, an environmental activist group that urges Maryland lawmakers to support the bill to “end Big Chicken’s free ride on pollution and to protect the growers who we rely on for our food.”
Let’s call this “farmers rights act” what it really is: Another attempt by Big Environment to constrict the poultry industry in Maryland in the hopes it moves out completely.
A hearing for the bill is scheduled for March 5 in a session beginning at 1 p.m. before the Senate Finance Committee.
If Sen. Madaleno won’t ask farmers for their thoughts before trying to dismantle their business in the guise of “helping” them, there are plenty that should be there to tell him.