A farmer’s friend

Published 9:25 am Wednesday, November 23, 2011

by Dell Cotton

The two men approached each other and briefly embraced as one said to the other “we lost another brother.”

In many rural communities in our country, farmers are the backbone of the economy. They and their families are also strong pillars of the community. They know almost everyone, and everyone knows them.

Farmers share good times with each other, just as they feel each other’s loss in bad times.

As you may know, the last couple of years have seen the prices of many agricultural commodities rise to historic levels. Now the consumer and media are complaining about high food prices, and Congress is threatening to slash federal farm programs in the name of budget cutting.

History holds many periods of commodity price struggles by farmers. Among the more prolonged in agricultural history, the 1970s, led to something called the American Agriculture Movement, which was started in the fall of 1977.

In 1977, Congress had enacted another Farm Bill that insured four more years of prices paid to farmers below their cost of production. Farmers were going out of business, so some took matters in their own hands and started the AAM.

Farmers began to demand an ear from their legislators and from the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. They wanted relief from surging imports and a better safety net for farmers in farm legislation.

Multiple regional tractor-cades took place, culminating in one in Washington in February 1979, which caused chaos but garnered much needed national attention.

Eventually some changes were made to farm programs to place a floor under commodity prices.

Since that time, farmers have become regular participants in supplying testimony before Congress and the Agriculture Committees so their needs are heard. The Movement helped give a voice and presence to agriculture in Washington.

I have had the pleasure to work with and become friends of many in our area who were involved in AAM and the tractor-cade that defined it. This was a national movement, but there was significant Virginia and local participation.

Those involved joined hands together for the sake of all farmers.

One who firmly believed in the principles of AAM and was very active from the beginning was Carlton Butler.

Carlton, a longtime farmer and community leader from outside Franklin, passed away on Sept. 27. He was 73.

The principles of AAM were a part of Carlton’s being, and he strongly believed that the success of all farmers was essential to the well being of our country.

Farmers suffer when they lose one of their own. Many of them lose a true friend. Others with ties to the American Agriculture Movement lost a “brother.”

DELL COTTON is manager of the Peanut Growers Cooperative Marketing Association. He can be reached at dcotton25@vcpeanutdma.com.