- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

To thousands of people at Nissan Pavilion yesterday, the Farm Aid concert was a chance to hear some great music. For the farmers themselves, it was an opportunity to tell presidential candidates about their plight.

Hundreds of farmers urged the nominees to change farm policies that they claim have forced many of them to lose their homes and livelihood to factory farms.

The farmers demanded that the next president work to stop catering to corporations and replace the Freedom to Farm Act of 1996 with short- and long-term provisions to restore economic stability to the country's rural farmers.

If nothing is done, they argue, farmers may not survive another decade.

"Corporations make what they call 'progress,' and family farmers get hammered," said Rhonda Perry, a hog farmer from Missouri. "But we're saying enough is enough … We want the federal government to know that it's time to do its part, to hear that we mean business and that we will not be sold out to corporate interests."

Mrs. Perry and other farmers delivered that message before yesterday's sold-out Farm Aid concert at Nissan Pavilion in Prince William County, where thousands of music fans packed the outdoor arena to support the family farmers and listen to music performed by concert co-founders Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young, along with other popular musicians.

It was the 13th such show since the first Farm Aid concert was held in Champaign, Ill., in September 1985. It also was the second time the all-day concert was performed in the Washington area.

With the elections less than two months away, Mr. Nelson invited the five presidential candidates to participate in a one-hour forum before the concert to discuss the effects of farm policies on rural Americans.

"Ever since the first time we got together back in 1985, we've been telling elected officials that we've got to pass policies that favor families over corporations," Mr. Nelson said.

"The time has come for the country to stand up for the farmers who grow our food," Mr. Nelson added. "With prices as low as they've ever been, we all need to show these candidates that the farm vote extends beyond the farm belt."

Only two candidates the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan and the Green Party's Ralph Nader attended the discussion, and both drew applause from the farmers in the audience when the two men pledged to change the policies if elected.

"If we don't have a new policy in place, we are going to lose these farms," Mr. Buchanan said.

"Corporations should get out of farming," Mr. Nader argued. "It's an absolute tragedy that our farmers are paid the least and damaged the most. It's completely an upside-down system of economic injustice."

Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin did not attend yesterday's event. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, spoke on behalf on Vice President Al Gore, who also did not attend.

"If elected, [Mr. Gore] will fight for farm families," Mr. Dorgan said. "He will work with us to repeal the Freedom to Farm bill, and I believe he is our best chance to do that."

It could not be determined yesterday how much money was raised for Farm Aid through ticket sales. But concert officials said yesterday an estimated $1 million was raised for farmers across the country at last year's event. Of that $1 million, officials said, about $58,000 went to farmers in the mid-Atlantic region.

Besides Mr. Nelson, Mr. Young and Mr. Mellencamp, other musicians who performed yesterday included Arlo Guthrie; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; North Mississippi Allstars; Sawyer Brown; and Barenaked Ladies.

Also performing were Alan Jackson; Travis Tritt; Cowboy's Nightmare; Badi Assad Menagerie; Jimmy Sturr; Trent Summar and the Row Mob; Chris DiCroce; Shannon Curfman; and Dennis Alley's Wisdom Indian Dancers.

Farm Aid was founded to raise awareness about the plight of American family farmers and to provide assistance to those whose livelihood depends on agriculture. In the past 15 years, Farm Aid has granted more than $15 million to more than 100 farm organizations, churches and service agencies in 44 states.

Farmers want Congress to increase market prices to producers by setting a floor price or loan rate at farmers' cost of production for food and fiber products. They also want government officials to develop a mechanism that balances supply with demand, resulting in a stable food system, and to extend commodity loans from nine to 18 months.

"Things do continue to get worse," Mr. Young said at a news conference yesterday before the show. "But we can make a difference. We can make a change in our government by voting for a party who appears to want to make a change in our farm policies. If we get the right people in there, then they will make a change."

In 1998, the last year for which figures were available, farmers earned an average of only $7,000 annually from their farming operations, according to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The farmer's share of each food dollar has dropped steadily over the last 40 years, from 41 cents in 1950 to 20 cents last year, statistics show.

"If the politicians don't stop listening to corporations, we're just not going to survive," said Edith Galloway, a wheat and corn farmer from Carthage, Ill.

Mrs. Galloway said she and her husband of 14 years, Dale, earn about $1.30 for a bushel of corn, which costs them about $4 to raise. When her father-in-law was a farmer in the 1960s, he would earn up to $2.50 for a bushel of corn, Mrs. Galloway said.

Her family now needs to find $200,000 to repair their combine, a reaping and threshing machine that picks through grain.

"It just breaks my heart that my husband's not going to make retirement and that he worries about feeding our children and sending them to school," Mrs. Galloway said.

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