Austin WHEN TEXAS Farm Bureau testifies before state commit tees invoking the name of 317,000 state Farm Bureau members and claiming to speak as the “voice of agriculture,” most legislators listen. For the past five decades, the Farm Bureau has exercised considerable clout in legislative matters while advocating “less government is good government” positions and freemarket remedies to all economic problems. Just who are these champions of laissez-faire free enterprise, rugged individualism, and a form of patriotism that borders on the religious, and why do they differ in policy from almost every other farmers’ organization? A little scratching under the surface reveals the voice of business. Big Business: the insurance business and corporate interests. Of the 317,000 TFB members, the majority appear to be consumers taking advantage of favorable insurance rates available from companies set up by the tax-free Farm Bureau. While portraying these consumers as constituents, the Farm Bureau has consistently lobbied against every progressive form of agriculturally related legislation. This has included Farm Bureau opposition to child-labor legislation, short-handled-hoe abolition, and the federal minimum wage for farm workers. The Farm Bureau’s opposition to the federal subsidy for grain prices and its refusal to oppose family farm foreclosures, combined with its extensive business interests, raises questions as to whose interests the Farm Bureau actually represents those of Texas farmers and ranchers or of those who would benefit at their expense. The Farm Bureau originated in a New York State Chamber of Commerce in Mikkel Jordahl is a part-time research assistant for the Texas Center for Rural Studies and plays string bass with the Austin Symphony. Research for this article was funded by the Texas Investigative Reporters Fund through a grant from National Community Funds. 1911. State Farm Bureaus soon spread across the nation, largely as an organization of established farmers opposed to economic and social changes promoted by the Populist movement and farm organizations such as the National Farmers Union. Affiliated businesses, set up by the Bureau to “meet the needs of the rural populace,” assured the state and national Bureaus of a continued source of income they could use to influence government policy. Today, the Texas Farm Bureau is just one part of a nationwide multi-billion dollar conglomerate with interests ranging from “oil wells, fertilizer plants, feed mills, and chemical companies to travel agencies and shopping centers,” according to the Kansas Rural Center. While the Texas Farm Bureau lobbies against pesticide regulation, the Mutual Company owns stock in Hooker Chemical, Allied Chemical, Monsanto, and Union Carbide. The Texas Farm Bureau has over $10 million in assets. It is the sole owner of the Texas Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company with 1984 assets of $61 million. Most of the investments made by the Mutual Company are in out-of-state industrial development corporations and in utilities. Investments in power companies alone reach $11.5 million, $1.3 million of that in nuclear facilities in Washington. Other concerns, according to the 1984 annual statement of the Mutual Company, include chemical companies and the oil industry, with over $1 million invested in each. While the Texas Farm Bureau lobbies against pesticide regulation, the Mutual Company owns stock in Hooker Chemical of Niagara, Allied Chemical, Monsanto, and Union Carbide. TFB, affiliates include four insurance companies and one cash fund organization with combined sales of over $600 million. The Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company insures 156,000 Texans; the Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company insures more than 450,000 cars in Texas; and the TFB Mutual Insurance Company covers property damage with over 180,000 policies in effect. The TFB-owned Texas Agricultural Service Company better known as Safemark sells tires, batteries, and tillage tools to Farm Bureau members and reported sales of $30.8 million in 1984. All of the services provided by Farm Bureau businesses require Farm Bureau membership. The demand for these services plays a huge role in generating the over $2 million in membership fees collected annually by the Farm Bureau. Of an average $25 membership fee collected by the county Bureaus, $7 goes to the state organization, $3 to the American the remaining $15 staying at the county level. Insurance and membership in the Farm Bureau can be taken care of in one phone call to the Mutual Insurance Company. Don Buyers, a former Farm Bureau insurance agent who worked in Ford, Grayson, and Cook counties in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and who now works for the Texas Farmers Union, said of the relationship: “[Most] county Farm Bureaus and the insurance companies share office space in Bureauowned buildings. The county organization pays for the upkeep and secretarial help. In return, the agents are producing lots of income for that county Bureau. Every time an agent writes some coverage on any of the Farm Bureau insurance companies, on all premiums there is a remuneration back to the county organization. That may only be a small percentage, but it adds up.” In exchange. for selling to the Farm Bureau membership, last year two of the affiliate insurance companies paid a combined total of just under $2.5 million in remunerations to county Bureaus in Texas. “One thing that used to go on when I worked there,” Buyers said, “is that an agent might write a life insurance policy on a businessman who didn’t give a damn about farming. He had to be a current member of the Farm Bureau to get the coverage. So the county Bureau might say to the agent, ‘We’ll pay the state portion of his membership fee and waive the county portion. The membership technically goes into effect, the businessman gets low-cost insurance minus the membership fee, and the county Bureau collects, say, a $50 remuneration from the insurance corn Their Business Is Business The Texas Farm Bureau By Mikkel Jordahl THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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