PROMOTING FAIR ECONOMIC COMPETITION
Hardworking Americans across the country know all too well that they are in a price squeeze. Wages are flat while costs seem to rise every day. In rural areas, the squeeze is exacerbated by the long distances families must travel to buy their basic necessities. For farmers, costs of seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs have skyrocketed, while the prices they are paid for their goods haven’t changed. A major cause of the price squeeze so many Americans are facing is the lack of economic competition: the big companies in our economy, from seed breeders to snack food manufacturers to grocery stores, have gotten even bigger in the last 40 years. Many of them now control so much market share that they can practically set their own prices and wages and exercise their power to keep new businesses out of the market.
In a 2021 executive order to increase competition, President Biden called a competitive marketplace “a cornerstone of the American economy” and pointed to the ways that excessive market concentration “threatens basic economic liberties, democratic accountability, and the welfare of workers, farmers, small businesses, startups, and consumers.” A freely competitive market can raise wages and lower costs, promote innovation and entrepreneurship, and lead to more vibrant communities.
Framing: independence, community care, cooperation
As policymakers, we can connect on solutions through shared values. Advocating for competitive rural economies where everyone has a fair shot is our priority. The values of independence, community care, and cooperation are powerful because these values are deeply held by hardworking Americans regardless of where they live or what they look like.
With the support of policy priorities that address economic competition like those below, local communities will have what they need to solve local problems. Opposition continues to talk at families, we are forging a new path to ensure legislators are speaking with families. By using effective communication strategies, we can neutralize inflammatory language, unite our coalitions, and pass the policies we all need.
USE SHARED RURAL VALUES TO CRAFT YOUR MESSAGE
Effective communication requires not only facts but leveraging the values people share to resonate across race, class, age, gender, and place. The best messages follow the VPSA model: Values, Problem, Solution, Action. First, we unite along shared values to introduce the issue, then demonstrate the collectively-held problem, name the solution to the problem, and finally, when appropriate, leave with a call to action joining you to solve the problem. This formula keeps our messages concise while disarming opponents who seek to divide us. To get you started, here are three rural values that are particularly relevant for communicating with rural constituents about fair economic competition:
- Framing: Rural constituents value their independence. But because of the power of big business, too many rural communities have become dependent on just one or two employers, buyers, and big chain stores. As a result, they have lost the small businesses and job opportunities that shape a small town’s identity. Fair economic competition is a critical tool to support the efforts of hardworking rural people to regain their independence from the dictates of big business and empower them to shape their own futures.
- Example Statement: (Value) Family farmers pride themselves on their independence. They couldn’t succeed without it. Tractor breaks down during planting? There’s no time or money for someone else to fix it, so the farmer takes out their own tools so they can get the field sown before the rain. (Problem) Today’s farm equipment runs on silicone chips that require tech knowledge and proprietary codes rather than a wrench and elbow grease. Equipment contracts now regularly require that farm machinery be serviced by the dealer, which is expensive and time intensive, and makes farmers reliant on other people for things they used to do themselves. (Solution) That’s why I drafted a Right to Repair bill for our state, which would protect farmers’ right to repair their equipment themselves, saving them time and money. (Action) Join me in sticking up for our farmers’ rights to take care of their own equipment and operation. Call on your representative to pass our Right to Repair bill.
- Example Talking Points:
- Rural Americans cherish their independence. They do not want to be tied to financial decisions made in Washington, DC, or on Wall Street. Unfortunately, the extreme consolidation in agriculture, energy, and other rural industries means that farmers and rural families are dependent on decisions made in far away board rooms. Hardworking rural Americans need policies to increase economic competition so that small businesses can thrive and decisions can be made by the community.
- Farmers value working for themselves and choosing how to operate their own business. This has become increasingly hard as just a few companies control nearly everything that farmers need to buy and sell. We need legislation to increase economic competition so that farmers will again have the opportunity to make their own business decisions instead of being dependent on the whims of a few big companies.
VALUE: COMMUNITY CARE
- Framing: No matter where they live or what they look like, rural Americans value local jobs and strengthening the local economy so that their whole community can thrive. Unfortunately, too many rural economies now instead rely on large corporations that extract natural resources, depress wages, and force Main Street stores out of business, all of which pushes a community apart. Measures to increase fair economic competition will allow opportunities for new businesses, local jobs, and ultimately a stronger community. By advocating for economic competition, progressives can demonstrate their commitment to promoting and defending strong rural communities.
- Example Statement: (Value) Rural Americans watch out for our neighbors. (Problem) But as our economy relies more and more on huge outside corporations, there are fewer jobs, lower wages, and local businesses and farms have shuttered – hurting all of our neighbors. (Solution) By cracking down on big businesses that have too much control in our economy, our bill will create economic opportunities for small business owners, raise worker wages, and lower prices for consumers. (Action) Join me in supporting our state’s 21st-Century Anti-Monopoly bill.
- Example Talking Points:
- The few big companies in the meatpacking industry squeeze farmers at the bottom of their supply chain and keep worker wages low, hurting the ability of hardworking farmers and workers to take care of their families.
- US farmers are proud of their work raising livestock to feed their fellow Americans. US consumers want to know they can trust that meat labeled “Product of the USA” was raised by US farmers. However, multinational meat companies have lobbied against the label, eroding farmer livelihoods and consumer trust, and the connection between them. We need strong rules to ensure accurate and trustworthy country of origin labeling.
- Framing: Cooperation is another important rural value for communicating about fair competition for farmers in rural communities: everyone must do their fair share to take care of the community. Large-scale agribusinesses, energy companies, and other extractive industries must be subject to regulation and taxation in the same way that smaller and locally-owned businesses are. Instead, these industries put a huge strain on local resources but they use the promise of jobs or economic activity to get tax exemptions or other public funds to avoid paying their share.
- Example Statement: (Value) The rural way of life is about coming together and doing our share to solve local problems. We all pitch in to build a brighter future with our neighbors, whether those neighbors are next door or miles down the road. (Problem) When outside companies take advantage of tax exemptions to set up a factory farm or drilling operation that will pollute our water, put strain on our roads, and lower our property values, our hardworking local families are left footing the bill while the companies take home the profits. (Solution) My bill will save our rural communities millions of dollars by making sure that industrial agriculture corporations pay their fair share of taxes.
- Example Talking Points:
- Public funds earmarked for agricultural conservation should be reserved for farmers who are investing in regenerative practices, not for expansion of potentially-leaky manure pits on huge livestock operations.
Hardworking family farmers and rural families pay their fair share to maintain roads and fund education. Corporate agribusinesses come into our communities and drive semi trucks on our roads and risk polluting our water, but they get tax breaks so they don’t have to contribute to cleaning up any mess they make.
In practice: Media getting it right
Blog | The Time Is Ripe for Competition and Antitrust Reform in Agriculture, 2021
- WHAT WE LIKE
- Uses a trending topic to connect to a parallel issue in the agricultural sector. While the agriculture industry is largely hidden from public eye, the attention paid to the power of Big Tech or Big Banking can translate into interest in how the same dynamic is happening across the agriculture and food sectors.
- Uses history to illustrate how we got here and how we can get ourselves out of the highly concentrated marketplace we find ourselves in today.
- MOVING FORWARD:
- When composing a comprehensive overview of a detailed topic, be sure to list your “action” items near the top. This ensures that anyone who does not read the full article will leave knowing what your “call to action” is. Think of it as a shortened VPSA at the top, within your longer, broader VPSA.
Op-Ed | Helping Small Processors Won’t Work Unless We Break Up Big Meat, 2022
- WHAT WE LIKE:
- Authentic. The writer captures their credentials quickly about why them, why this topic. Specifically, the author captures the fear producers have when speaking about the industry they’re in.
- Vividly depicts the choices poultry producers have to make to squeak by in their industry. It is important to remind audiences that producers often have to make decisions they themselves do not want to make.
- Centers workers, but specifically, centers the harm consolidation brings to workers (and consumers).
- Ends with a clear “action” statement that directly ties back to the values.
- MOVING FORWARD:
- For most of us, a highly concentrated agriculture industry is commonplace–we’ve never known anything different. When implementing the VPSA model, take time to craft what your shared values are because these are essentially our shared Visions.
- What does a world look like with fair competition? We don’t know, so help us get a better picture of it by clearly articulating the vision you have for our communities.
If you have questions or feedback about these communications guides, please be in touch with the SiX Agriculture and Food Systems Team. We love to hear from you!