My message to soybean farmers who read Farm Futures

If, for the past forty years, the federal government simply helped soybean farmers by not disrupting world markets, the federal government would have given them the relief now they so badly need.

Let me repeat this so often stated complaint. Our country is badly divided. People hate each other because of whom they voted for President, their religion, their view on the Second Amendment or most significantly because they routed for Duke as opposed UNC. I understand America’s future must embrace our farmers in the same way I embrace my children and my granddaughter. Our farmers and the land they till should be embraced!

Chairman+Do-Nothing+Know+Nothing Conaway on Meet the Press March 2018


Before we get into just how tawdry, manipulative of farmers and just plain stupid is Chairman Conaway’s version of the “farm bill” let us pause and praise a Republican Senator who may very well determine the future of  U.S. agriculture. The farm economy is dependent on U.S. exports of grain and oilseeds. [Soybeans are an oilseed,]

About Ben – Senator Ben Sasse (

As we speak, rice and soybean farmers are paying big bucks for computer programs that are teaching them Mandarin, Chinese and Hebrew. Senator Sasse understands. Chairman  Mike Conaway of Texas has not a clue.


For soybean farmers, bills get paid from the market. From the free narket. No government money; for deades private money until Trump screwed up and embargoed the sale of US soybeans to the Peoples Republic of China==a Trump screw up of major proportions.

1. US and world information on how many acres ( hectares) are being planted, how the soybean crop is doing, who are the US’s competitors, what restrictions in trade exist, and how to overcome them.

Senator Sasse was elected in a 2014 landslide, winning each of Nebraska’s 93 counties, and securing the second-largest margin for a new senator in the history of the state. Living off of a rickety old campaign bus, he and his family campaigned tirelessly on a common-sense platform of restoring the Constitution to its rightful place and encouraging a more constructive politics where every public official works to make the American Dream achievable for every family. He believes in term limits and a humbler Washington, where the federal government does fewer things, but the more important things, more urgently, more transparently, and with less partisan screaming. Healthy lives are lived primarily in the private sector, and the vast majority of good policy is created at the state and local level — and Washington should get better at talking honestly about these essential American realities.


CBS This Morning Published on Mar 8, 2018

The White House says it expects President Trump to sign his new tariff plan for imported steel and aluminum by the end of the week. More than 100 congressional Republicans oppose the plan. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, who is one of the lawmakers against it, joins “CBS This Morning” from Capitol Hill to discuss why he thinks the tariffs are a “terrible idea.”

Note: I am a dyed-in-the wool Democrat whose book on agriculture policy was published by the Sierra Club. At the Sierra Club, I had an excellent copy editor who provided a helpful index that makes it possible for graduate students in agricultural colleges to find the information they need to write a paper without having to undergo the ordeal of actually reading my book.

The copy editor wrote Sierra Club’s editor in chief Danny Moses begging him not to publish my book, insisting I was violating policy of the Sierra Club by emphasizing that for the forseeable future the best determiner of global food policy is a free market as symbolized by the pit of the wheet market at the Chicago Board of Trade.

Read Frank Norris’ second novel in his trilogy of the wheat begun with the Octopus which changed my life (cross my heart and hope to die). As Norris predicted in the late 1890s, farms had to become large, specialized and in touch by tickertape to the future price of wheat determined live (Breaking news).by very active speculators going seemingly crazy in the dramatic pits.

Every investigative journalist in the world owes his and her profession to Frank Norris’ The Octopus. 

Even if House Ag Chairman’s Conaway farm bill is good for anything (doubtful), it fails to help soybean farmers


Mea Culpa: I am sorry much as Socrates was sorry when he  issued his Apology which began as a now obscure word meaning, “Boy am I a not sorry, but you require a long explanation as to why I am right and everyone else is wrong.


Pubished in AgPro  by Joel Solkoff on Sun, 05/27/2018

Mea culpa. Last month, shortly before checking into the hospital for being 70 years old and in need of medical assistance, I made a false assumption about the farm bill.

I made a false assumption about the wisdom of the majority members of the House Agriculture Committee. My assumption was that anyone knowing anything about life in general and farm bills specifically….

Tout la monde knew the farm bill was doomed after the COMMITTEE passed Conaway’s bill defying decades’ long rule that to become law an act to fund the Department of Agriculture must attract urban and suburban members of Congress).

I assumed Chairman Conaway’s bill would never reach the House floor because it is unusually mean [details available]) to low-income recipients of food stamps.

Conaway’s bill provoked a walk out by Democrats on the Committee. I assumed the bill would never ever under any circumstances receive a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

I could not have been more wrong. The Speaker of the House, for reasons escaping rational thought, scheduled a vote even though Paul Ryan knew and Chairman Conaway knew there was no chance at all of the legislation becoming law between now and November. Given the limited time (details provided nearly daily by Roll Call) available to Congress with too much to do and too little time to do it….

“Not a chance in hell” was my bold statement no House vote would take place. A vote did take place. Then, the Freedom Caucus and immigration entered the politics of agriculture further confusing the situation given farmers need immigrant/guest worker labor to do work Americans won’t do. (I digress).

Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tells Roll Call next on his priority list is scheduling a vote on the more reasonable version of the farm bill jointly sponsored by the Republican Chairman and the ranking Democrat of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Why is Senator McConnell wasting everyone’s time on a measure he knows cannot become law between now and the Congressional elections? He knows there is no urgency because a continuing resolution is chugging along. Now that Mount Nittany Medial Center here in State College, PA has restored my health, the answer emerged.

President Trump’s ideology is corrupting the integrity of his hitherto excellent Secretary of Agriculture. Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress have polluted the farm bill debate by self-defeating punishment of the poor. Doing so reflects a cynical contempt for the farmers who helped elect him. Lie to the farmers is the approach of Trump, McConnell, Ryan, and Conaway. Pretend the farm bill is likely to pass. Have Republican members of the House Agriculture Committee talk at farm barbecues about the amendments introduced to legislation that will never pass. Baffle the listeners with detailed expletive deleted in the pretense the Republicans have the best interest of farmers in mind.

Boy, am I sorry I was wrong. I assumed the Speaker of the House still had integrity rather than being an accomplice in the Trump Republican effort to lie to farmers. Mea culpa.



riting this exclusively for Farm Futures, worried about our country’s soybean  farmers, gassing off about the disaster imposed on them by the President’s tariffs against China and by the not-worth-the-paper-it-is-printed-on farm bill “authored” by the delusional Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, who is from Texas, (I have a soft spot for Texas). Soybean farmers are best advised to seek comfort elsewhere since the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee is delusional.

I have been following agriculture policy closely since 1974 when renewal of the Sugar Act of 1948 (as amended) went down to blazing defeat. What comes to mind most vividly was Rep. Bella Abzig (D-NY) whose bizarre behavior had her successfully amending the legislation before killing it. Abzug was an icon of the women’s liberation movement whom I adored until I got to see her up close and personal. Too personal. But that is another story.

The Sugar Act was defeated after liberal Democrats amended the bill with benefits for farm workers. They voted for the amendment and against the bill. Bella Abzug—after voting yes—waved her signature wide-brim hat in the air then advised her colleagues (in language theoretically forbidden on the House Floor) not to help out our [expletive deleted] farmers.

I was 24 years old at the time—a newsletter editor on farm labor. What, I wondered, is the sense in killing a bill after passing an amendment to the bill you will be boasting to farm union groups that you have passed? Decades later I still wonder.


What I am writing about is not history. It is prologue to the devastation President Donald Trump has inflicted on the agriculture community, most especially on our country’s soybean farmers.  For decades, Republican and Democratic Administrations have treated our soybean farmers like parlor trash. None-the-less, our farmers persisted. They upgraded their computers paying for expensive software to provide detailed weather information, market prices globally, language courses in Mandarin and Arabic, membership in the somewhat powerful American Soybean Association. Until Donald Trump, it was realistic to believe our soybean farmers could remain profitable because of their success in global markets.


I am a paraplegic. As a result of radiation treatment for cancer (which saved my life and made it possible to be not only a parent but a grandparent), I have been unable to walk for 24 years. I have learned what we all learn if wisdom comes anywhere in the neighborhood when we age: Getting by is what counts.

 Getting by is what counts for soybean farmers. It is what counts for police officers, fire officers, for those who are first responders.

Soybean farmers are our country’s first responders in feeding the world.They are not receiving—from the Administration they helped elect to office—the respect they deserve.


The theme of first responders is intriguing. I am proud each of my children is a first responders. Amelia Altalena is a police officer in the South. Joanna, who is the mother of my first grandchild, is a nurse. Her husband is a fireman. Amelia’s husband is a fireman.

Right now, I am reading about Erik H. Erikson’s eight-part cycle of life (one stage more than Shakespeare). Erickson began his career as psychologist working with infants and children who had been emotionally damaged. Erikson’s Stage One is Trust versus Mistrust. This applies to newborn children. For them, being able to receive nutrition from the mother’s breast or from a bottle determines their success in getting to the next stage.

Some infants do not get the nutrition they require or they fail to obtain it when required. Some die or suffer through a life of disappointment. God knows how much we  humans can do when adversity strikes; we pray our children never are challenged in this way.


I am getting around to the farm bill. It might be helpful here to note infant formula for millions of US infants is paid for from the farm bill. Most of the farm bill does not go to farmers. Directly and indirectly, only a third of the Department of Agriculture budget goes to farmers, to researchers in agriculture, to compilers of agricultural statistics.

Since farmers require some of the funds devoted to agriculture, the uncomfortable political reality they face is less than 3 percent of the population and about one percent of the vote comes from farmers. There are not enough farmers in a Congress where most members represent urban and suburban constituencies. For decades, obtaining assistance from urban and suburban members of Congress has been essential for passing a farm bill. “You give me school lunch, I will give you non-recourse loans for soybeans.”

As is the case across the board in Washington regarding the passage of legislation, there are unwritten and arrangements. This is especially the case with farm bills. The unwritten rules were made explicit by then Senators Robert Dole of Kansas and George McGovern of South Dakota (but really of left-leaning Massachusetts; see Presidential election results 1972).

Dole wanted to help farmers. McGovern wanted to make sure the poor received enough food stamps. The Dole-McGovern arrangement has held the farm bill together for decades—even after McGovern and Dole left office. Until this year. Until Donald Trump. Until Chairman Conaway, Until Sonny Perdue (whose excellence as secretary of agriculture has been tarnished by Trump meddling) hit past the guard rails that protect reality from chaos. And Perdue buried the whole farm bill process until after the November elections by insisted food purchased from food stamps be taken out of the grocery stores and distributed. Distributed how?

Will future food stamp recipients have to depend upon the U.S. Postal Service (or some instantly put together commodities shipping service)? Does this mean a disabled 45-year low-income old woman, the sole support of four minor children, in order to prepare a ham sandwich have to go to her mailbox or await the UPS truck or have to go pick up from a community center: bread, ham, lettuce, relish, mayonnaise? To help her haul the stuff from a community center, my guess is that no funds would be spent on a red radio wagon.

The cut-everything regardless lunacy from the White House resulted in Secretary Perdue, an otherwise excellent defender of farmers, insisting upon this take food stamps out of the grocery store lunacy.


When I was a reporter in DC in the 1980s, I received grants from the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Reporters have a special sense of responsibility which applies here to the House Agriculture Committee to vote for the Conaway bill. What responsibility does a reporter have when covering this bogus pieces of political theater; namely, the House Agriculture Committee passing Conaway’s delusional bill and sending it to the House where it has already died even before hitting the floor (or the Speaker’s calendar).

 Especially galling is if the Conaway bill became law, it would no next to nothing to deal with the crisis our soybean farmers are currently experiencing. The minimum a Farm Futures reporter can do in honestly to inform farmer readers that reality does exist is to use quotation marks around the words “farm bill” until after the November elections.


Returning to Erikson’s Cycle of Life, my relevant observation at age 70 involves my perspective at the last stage of life. Erikson says when you are my age, you look back on life pleased (or at least not troubled) by the life you have led. Or you look back frustrated and in anger at what you have failed to accomplish. If surviving cancer three times has taught me anything, it has taught to look back, cherish, and think of future generations.

My children’s life is no different from other hard-working Americans. Yes, there is a significant divide between farm communities where so few live and urban and suburban communities where so many live. Even so, my daughter the nurse and a soybean farmer have a lot in common. They have a family to care for. They must rely upon a public education system that can prepare their children for the future. They must meet a budget and make ends meet.

If, for the past forty years, the federal government simply helped soybean farmers by not disrupting world markets, the federal government would have given them the relief now they so badly need.

Let me repeat this so often stated complaint. Our country is badly divided. People hate each other because of whom they voted for President, their religion, their view on the Second Amendment or most significantly because they routed for Duke as opposed UNC. I understand America’s future must embrace our farmers in the same way I embrace my children and my granddaughter. Our farmers and the land they till should be embraced!

–Joel Solkoff, author The Politics of Food

Will my granddaughter Juliet Mae marry a soybean farmer?​

About Ben – Senator Ben Sasse (