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Interview with Linda Rauser
Chairperson of the Dakota Resource Council (DRC)
by Dana Williams

 

General

How would you describe the DRC?
Dakota Resource Council is a nonprofit, grassroots activist organization, founded in 1978. We will be celebrating our 25th birthday at our Annual Meeting in Dickinson, ND, on October 26th. The mission of Dakota Resource Council is to form enduring, democratic local groups that empower people to influence decision-making processes that affect their lives. Dakota Resource Council is committed to preserving sustainable agriculture and natural resources.

What is your role in the DRC? And why are you involved?
I currently serve as Chair of the Board of Directors of Dakota Resource Council. My two sisters and myself became 3rd generation farmers and ranchers when our parents died in the ‘80’s. We love the land and are determined to make this work. As the years passed, I noted that production agriculture was always getting the short end of the policy stick and the retail dollar. The surest way I know of to avoid getting anything done is to do nothing. I became involved. DRC is my farm organization of choice because they truly are ‘grassroots’. Membership driven. Put another way, DRC is that farm organization that doesn’t sell insurance, have patrons, or political affiliations.

What things has the DRC done in the past that has been the most successful? And how were they accomplished?
Packer concentration, country of origin labeling, wind energy development and mandatory commodity check-off programs are issues that Dakota Resource Council has been working on for years. These are huge issues that bring forth huge opponents with deeper pockets than we will ever have. Given that, the progress we have made is impressive. The process begins with public education. We deal with factual information, this requires research. We assist members to organize democratically. I think the real key to our success is our dedicated members and staff because in the end, it all boils down to hard work and persistence. The ban on packer ownership of feeder cattle is being considered in Congress as a separate bill, having been cut from the farm bill. Country of origin labeling IS in the farm bill. By the way, we do have a state country of origin labeling law that is not being enforced! Wind energy development in ND is important to DRC. This is a crop we have yet to begin to harvest. We are committed to fair leases for landowners. We would also, like to see landowners get in on the marketing end through investments. The mandatory beef check-off has been ruled unconstitutional in court. This is the check-off that promotes imported beef equally to domestic beef and funds the NCBA [National Cattlemen’s Beef Association], which claims to speak on behalf of American ranchers in support of Fast Track. Of course, the case is being appealed. These issues, along with the GM [genetically modified] wheat moratorium, have been brought to the forefront due in a large part to the work of our members and staff. Sometimes, as with our work to keep our corporate farming laws strong, our wins can only be measured by how much worse off we would be had we not put forth the effort.

What is the biggest problem facing North Dakota today?
The steady decline in income from production agriculture.

What is North Dakota's biggest "asset"?
The land and expertise to raise crops people want and need.

Problems and Issues

What is the biggest threat facing small, family farms?
The globalization of agriculture combined with corporate agri-business monopolies resulting in market price manipulation and control.

What do you think about the idea of the "Buffalo Commons"?
This is happening almost by default through the lessening ability of farmers and ranchers to make a living on the land.

How does neo-liberal economics ("free trade") impact North Dakota?
We’re in the same boat as a lot of Third World countries, because the new global economics don’t value labor or commodity production. ND will never win the race to the bottom in cost of production. Why would we want to? The EU [European Union] values food sovereignty. The USA has never been really hungry. When our family farm food system is gone, when we are dependent on a foreign food supply and it is cut off, then and only then will our country truly understand ND’s value. Yes, our government just passed a hefty farm bill. Remember that in that farm bill is a trigger system for our Secretary of Agriculture to cut our subsidies when they exceed WTO [World Trade Organization] limits. Our nation is powerless under WTO to write its own farm policy.

What are some of the biggest problems with GMOs [genetically modified organisms]?
The inability to segregate. No one, not even Monsanto is saying that, once GM wheat is released, there will ever again be 100% GM free wheat. Farmers know it for a fact. Who hasn’t had a pea or a sunflower sprout up in their field seeded with commercially cleaned grain? It is impossible to clean machinery and elevator equipment that thoroughly. GM wheat is considered a contaminant by our export customers. They have made it crystal clear, they do not want it! So why is it even being considered? I have seen no proof of monetary gain for the farmer, however there may be some degree of convenience. It is corporate agribusiness who has everything to gain from the introduction of GM wheat. Can you imagine the degree of corporate control when the farmer has lost the right to save his own seed?

What is the DRC's opinion of CSAs [community-supported agriculture], urban gardening, polyculture, and organic farming? Are these viable alternatives to large-scale, factory-style farming?
I think a lot about the unsustainability of receiving food from all over the world, using vast amounts of energy, when much of our food can be grown close to home.

What is the impact of growing corporate power in North Dakota? And is it a new or old phenomenon?
The NPL [Non-Partisan League], early in the century, was concerned about the monopoly control of millers, packers, railroads, banks, and insurance companies. It has only gotten worse.

How should the citizen response to ever-increasing corporate power differ from the methods of the early 1900's? Or are they the same methods?
Things could be better now because we have laws, for example the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921. Unfortunately, the law is not being enforced. Things are actually worse because corporate agri-business consolidation is more advanced. Even more serious is the decline in voters whose interest lies in production agriculture. The population of my township in 1920 was 213. In 1990, it was 73.

Future

How could North Dakota be re-organized in a more sustainable fashion?
This is a tough question. A lot of the changes required for decent income at the production end of agriculture are national and international in scope. I’d like to see the state take a more active role in pushing for these changes instead of wimping out on issues like country of origin labeling, chemical residue, GMO’s, etc......

Why should people living in North Dakota's larger cities be concerned about the prairie?
Do they eat?

How can North Dakota retain its young people?
Basically, I think they need to be able to make a decent income. It strikes me that it’s the American way for kids to leave home, and maybe it’s just as important a question to ask how we can attract younger people from other areas.

What can North Dakotans do to help improve their state?
Farmers and consumers alike need to stop being so passive about letting agribusiness profit so excessively off ND and its people.

What specific things can urban residents do-- apart from sending DRC a donation-- to help out with rural/ag issues in ND?
If I am going to continue as a family farmer, I need the consumer/taxpayer on my side. There are not enough family farmers out here to make a loud voice. I need to make the consumer understand that my product is safe and tasty when it leaves my farm. I need to make the taxpayer aware that I am not on welfare. If I receive a subsidy, it is only enough to assure that I continue producing cheap commodities at or below the cost of production. The benefactor of the subsidy is the purchaser of my product, and no, my friend that is not you the consumer. It is the processor, the packer, the retailer. And, so long as our borders are wide open to imports, the answer does not lie in cutting off subsidies to US farmers. It is a complicated web to try to crawl out of and/or explain. It would be like if the US government said to McDonalds, "You can pay your employees 30 cents below minimum wage and we’ll make up the difference in welfare checks". Is that subsidizing the employee or McDonalds? Not a shining example of economic development is it? Farmers want to receive their income from the marketplace. To do this we need the help of the consumer. Whether you are urban or rural, if you eat, you can help make a difference by becoming a DRC member.

 

I would like to thank Linda for taking the time to answer my questions, and also Mark Trechock for helping to coordinate the interview.

[Conducted during mid-August 2002]

 

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