From the July 2001 Idaho Observer:
Rain on the Scarecrow; Blood on the Plow
Farmers file class action against fedgov
BISMARCK, North Dakota -- The Associated Press reported in late June that Dozens of farmers have sued the U.S. Agriculture Department, saying bills seeking money from deals struck during the 1980s federal farm bailout has raised new fear of foreclosure.
The filing of this civil action against the federal government exemplifies a trend that is growing in this country. People, angered by the manner in which the federal government deals with property rights issues, are organizing their efforts and resources to file civil actions against federal agencies in federal court.
So far the lawsuit names 108 farmer/plaintiffs. The plaintiffs' legal counsel Sarah Vogel predicts that when/if the suit gains class action status, as many as 20,000 farmers and ranchers may sign on.
The suit and the possibility that 20,000 individuals may seek damages is a sign that federal land use polices and programs are not working to the benefit of the people they were allegedly implemented to benefit.
The dispute goes back to the mid 80s when family farm failures became epidemic throughout the Midwest. Most of the people who lost their farms during that time believe that a series of intentional marketplace manipulations by bankers, corporations and government agencies were responsible for creating the climate which killed family farms while allowing corporate farms to thrive.
The federal government allegedly saved the day by passing a law in 1987 that wrote off $billions in farm loans. The federal government claims that its actions saved 23,000 farmers from foreclosure.
However, it appears that no matter how benevolent the government claims to be, the plaintiffs claim that the Farm Service Agency is demanding farmers pay one-half the amount of money their land has increased in value since 1989 -- a figure of $4.3 million. The plaintiffs also claim that the 1987 deal was that the federal government agreed to write off loans above the actual value of the land in 1989.
The Farm Services Agency told the court that splitting land appreciation monies was part of the deal. The plaintiffs claim that they understood they would be required to share land appreciation revenues if they sold their land within 10 years and that if kept their land they would own nothing to the federal government.
The Farm Services Agency is currently conducting collection activities. Farmers are being threatened with fees and foreclosures if they fail to pay what the feds are telling them to pay. One Montana farmer is being charged with paying $270,000.
Non-corporate farmers around the nation are still having a hard time and have never recovered from the calamities that befell them in the 80s during the Reagan era.
According to a post-presidential election map (The Idaho Observer, June, 2001), traditionally agricultural counties of the country voted overwhelmingly to replace Bill Clinton with George Bush, Jr. Traditionally agricultural counties are populated by conservative people who believed that Bush was a conservative who would be sympathetic to their needs and appreciative of the service farmers provide a nation of hungry people.
It would appear that the Bush administration is as sympathetic to the American farmer as the Reagan administration was.
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