[Following is a statement prepared by Attorney General Tom Miller for the news conference kicking off the "Green Ribbon Campaign," at the 75th National Catholic Rural Life Conference.]
I am deeply concerned with the situation in rural Iowa today. Farmers and rural communities face serious financial strains due to low prices (particularly in the hog industry), weather problems, and other factors. We all are hopeful that conditions will change and prices will rise, but, unfortunately, experts say we may not be able to count on fast improvement. It is important that we join together now to do all we can to prevent the current situation from turning into a farm crisis like the one we experienced in the 1980s.
First, we need to raise public awareness and understanding of the severity of the situation. The Green Ribbon Campaign announced today by the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and cooperating organizations is an excellent vehicle to do this. We can help draw public attention to the fundamental fact that we always depend on farmers, and that farmers now need support from all of us.
Second, I encourage farmers and other parties with whom they may have disputes (such as lenders, suppliers, landlords, and contractors) to attempt to resolve those disputes using mediation. It is a process that was developed to deal with seemingly intractable problems of the farm crisis of the 1980s. Mediation is required before court action in some cases (farmer/creditor and care and feeding contracts) and it has proven to be an effective way to successfully resolve other types of disputes.
Third, we need to pull together resources, talent, and expertise to address the problem. My office, along with the Iowa Mediation Service, is holding regular meetings with farm group representatives, lenders, clergy, university experts, and government officials to share information and develop action strategies to help farmers and their communities cope. All is not well in rural America, so we all must pull together to face the challenge.
Fourth, I pledge that I and the Farm Division in our office will do all we can. We have launched several initiatives already, and we will continue them and others:
Investigating several potential consumer fraud cases where unscrupulous businesses may have taken advantage of distressed farmers.
Conducting numerous educational seminars on production contracting and how farmers can best protect their legal interests in grain and livestock contracts.
Developing educational materials advising farmers how to make wise purchases of farm inputs, including used farm machinery, pesticides, micronutrients, and potassium and phosphorus fertilizers.
Organizing multi-state efforts by state attorneys general to convince Congress and USDA to make livestock markets fairer and more competitive by requiring meat packers to disclose more livestock price information.
Along with most Iowans, I believe in the goal of preserving a central role for independent family farmers in Iowa agriculture. I am committed to making the resources of my office available and working with other organizations to achieve this goal.
We all must step forward and be voices for independent family farmers, who so enrich our lives, from providing food to embodying many of the best values and character traits of our people. We will be advocates for our friends and neighbors in rural Iowa and rural America.
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