DAILY CATHOLIC     FRI-SAT-SUN     July 23-25, 1999     vol. 10, no. 137

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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          In a pastoral statement responding to what they see as a crisis in American agricultural system, the bishops of Nebraska have come out strongly in defense of family farms, and endorsed efforts to limit corporate ownership of agricultural land.

          In their statement, the bishops express deep concern about the economic losses and personal hardships suffered by many families engaged in farming in Nebraska. The economic difficulties of family farms, they note, can take a toll on family life, and contribute to the breakdown of small communities as well. Because the economy of Nebraska has always been heavily oriented toward farming, these problems have a severe impact on the life of the state.

          Many of the factors that have contributed to the problems of small, family- owned farms are beyond the control of the farmers themselves, the bishops observe. They point to the trend toward large corporate farms, the development of industrial-sized production systems, the "vertical integration" of corporate ownership, and the trend toward globalization of the agricultural market. All of these influences, the bishops say, make it more difficult for family-owned farms to compete on the marketplace.

          Jim Cunningham, the executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said that the problems faced by family farmers were weighing heavily on the Catholic pastors of Nebraska, and the bishops felt it imperative to respond to those concerns. "The bishops, as teachers and pastors, felt a very real need to say something about the current crisis," he explained. "Rural pastors especially have been telling them of the serious economic hardships many of the families in their parishes are facing, and their struggles to survive in agriculture.'

          The pastoral message-- jointly signed by Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha and Bishops Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln and Lawrence McNamara of Grand Island-- has been published in the diocesan newspapers of Nebraska, and distributed to all of the 275 parishes in the state. The bishops urged the faithful to use their statement as a basis for further discussions.

          The bishops' statement, citing the social teachings of the Catholic Church, argues that smaller farms provide not only a healthy environment for a family business, but also a productive and enduring model for the agricultural economy. The bishops say that they "endorse and defend family farms and ranches as a viable way of life." But they add: "We remain steadfast in our belief that small- and moderate-sized farms and ranches operated by families on a full-time basis constitute the most sustainable, efficient, and morally responsible method for connecting with the land and providing food for the world."

          The bishops also underline their support for the "Family Farm Preservation" measure which was approved by Nebraska's voters in 1982 as an amendment to the state's constitution. That measure places restrictions on the ownership of land and agricultural involvement by corporations. "We hereby reaffirm our support for this public policy," the bishops write. "It upholds a just hierarchy of values and a view toward the common good. We urge that it be conscientiously and effectively enforced."

          As practical responses to the crisis of the family farm, the bishops urge farmers to act cooperatively, pooling their resources to take advantage of more efficient marketing options. They also call upon consumers to support family farmers by buying their produce. Finally, they call upon all members of the community to offer whatever assistance they can to the families that are struggling because of their economic setbacks.

          To those who have already been scarred by the agricultural crisis, the bishops offer a message of sympathy and understanding. They emphasize the importance of developing a strong interior life in order to able to absorb the difficulties caused by economic forces.

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July 23-25, 1999       volume 10, no. 137


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