Is there a self-appointed “patriot” on the list of U.S. Senate candidates? How about someone who incessantly refers to our Founding Fathers when it comes to their social policies (e.g. slavery, suppression of women’s rights, destruction of American Indian culture, rampant child abuse) with zealous reverence?
When it comes to supporting the farmer, is there one candidate from the myriad U.S. Senate hopefuls that stands out and has caught Alaskan farmers’ attention?
The answer is “yes” to all of the above. His name is Joe Miller.
I’ve listened to Mr. Miller on the radio, and in T.V. interviews. I attended the East High School debate in Anchorage with other Mat-Su farmers. I’ve engaged with him on air in the Valley on local radio talk show several times.
Over the months I’ve followed him, Joe Miller has been critical of farmers while claiming to be a fiscal conservative. Originally I thought Mr. Miller was an Ivy League educated attorney living in Alaska, collecting a farm subsidy for land he owned in Kansas. But according to our conversation on the Tom Anderson Show back in May 23rd, Miller said he bought his farmland in Kansas and collected a farm subsidy while subdividing the farm. So if I’m correct, he was actually a developer collecting a farm subsidy. According to Miller, this wasn’t a big deal because he wasn’t actually collecting very much money from the federal government. In the conversation on air he said he was earning around $100 a month (I looked it up and he averaged $118 a month for over five years). Miller also denied collecting farm payments while he was in Alaska, yet his own U.S. Senate campaign admitted back in 2010 that he did, in fact, collect the subsidies while working as an attorney and residing in Alaska.
Granted, some voters may not like the idea of farm subsidies, but one-line sound bites by a pandering politician disparaging the program and the farmers who receive them is a betrayal of the men and women in my industry.
Consider how vital agriculture is to our society and how quickly it’s declining. In 1935, the number of farms in the United States peaked at 6.8 million, while the population was approximately 127 million. Farmers have continued to fade away while our population and demand for farmed resources escalates. There are now over 313 million people living in the United States, tripling since 1935, but just one-tenth of 1% are farming as an occupation. There are now only 2.2 million farms in the entire U.S., and a small fraction of those in Alaska, yet the majority of us thrive on such produce and savor every farm fresh meal.
America has some of the richest agriculture soils in the world and we are paving over one million acres of these soils each year. It’s estimated that by the year 2050 the world food production must double to meet the demand. This will impact every American either positively or negatively depending on what we do today. If we continue to pave our agriculture soils – our grandchildren will struggle to feed their families, and I’m unsure Joe Miller understands this reality.
Closer to home, and for a perspective on Alaskan farming and government support, from 1995 to 2012 nearly 89 percent of Alaska’s farms did not collect a farm subsidy. Of the farms that did collect a subsidy, 80 percent received on average $134 a year. That’s about 1/10 of what Joe Miller was receiving.
The Department of Agriculture’s website states that “U.S. agricultural trade generates employment, income, and purchasing power in both the farm and non farm sectors. Each farm export dollar earned stimulated another $1.65 in business activity in calendar year 2006. The $71.0 billion of agricultural exports in 2006 produced an additional $117.2 billion in economic activity for a total economic output of $188.2 billion. Agricultural exports also generated 841,000 full-time civilian jobs, which include 482,000 jobs in the non-farm sector. Farmers’ purchases of fuel, fertilizer, and other inputs to produce commodities for export spurred economic activity in the manufacturing, trade, and transportation sectors.”
80 percent of the funds in the most recently passed national Farm Bill are for food stamp benefits and have nothing to do with farming – unless one blames farmers for providing the food that feed people. Only 20 percent of the funds in the Farm Bill are for farm programs, and some of these programs may actually be responsible for funding the construction of the home in which you live.
And when it comes to “subsidies,” every homeowner who took out a traditional mortgage received a federal subsidy in some form or another, such as artificially low interest rates, federal loan guarantee, etc. Is Joe Miller also an advocate for letting the free market decide what the interest rates will be? Are we ready for 18 percent home mortgage rates? Did Miller shop around for the lowest federally subsidized rate or did he seek a non-federally manipulated loan (is there even such a loan?) Or did Miller pay cash for his home in protest of the federal subsidies provided to America’s homeowners?
When I first heard the bullet points of his “freedom and liberty” rhetoric he had my attention. But after listening more closely and examining the real message from Joe Miller, I’ve become troubled at the lack of integrity in his value system. Or gently phrased, his lack of understanding of the agriculture industry. When he accuses American farmers of “not meeting the needs of this country,” I am baffled. Have Americans truly ever missed meals because of the lack of accessible food? If American farmers are guilty of anything, isn’t it of being too efficient at their job and providing an inexpensive over-abundance of food (and add to the menu: feeding the world).
I once heard Miller claim that it was the Republican establishment that cheated him out of his victory in his 2010 senate race, and that he won’t support either Mead Treadwell or Dan Sullivan, should they win the August Primary. The way I see it, it was Joe Miller’s hypocrisy that cheated him out of a seat in the U.S. Senate.
If you think it is good that Americans have access to inexpensive, safe food, and you believe exporting hundreds of billions of dollars every year in farm products is good for this country economically, then you should truly research political candidates when they speak in macro terms, generalities and impugning an industry they have little knowledge about.
In all honesty, I did not write this opinion article to defend farm subsidies (it’s a complex issue I hardly understand), but rather to point out the fact that the biggest problem with our current system is that an Ivy League attorney and land developer like Joe Miller, who lives thousands of miles away from a farm he owns, can still receive a farm subsidy for fields he doesn’t farm.
Joe Miller doesn’t understand the agriculture industry in Alaska, nor the country. I fear he shrouds himself in slogans and patriot spectacle, seasoned with hypocrisy, and is the wrong person to represent our state in the U.S. Senate.
Arthur Keyes owns Glacier Valley Farm in Palmer and is the founder of the South Anchorage Farmer’s Market. He was a produce manager for Safeway in Anchorage and has worked in produce all of his adult life. He’s currently on the Board of Directors for the Palmer Soil & Water Conservation District, and is the past president of the Mat-Su Farm Bureau, past director on the Alaska State Farm Bureau, and currently serves on Mat-Su’s Board of Directors.