Idaho Rural Council
The Idaho Rural Council (IRC) is a big believer in competition — as long as their competition is tied up in court and red tape.
IRC started out primarily as a grassroots farmers group, but lost its way during more recent times as its war chest grew and its politics tilted ever leftward. As journalist Robin Garr noted over ten years ago, “IRC operated at first primarily as a one-on-one counseling and referral organization focused on debt issues surrounding the farm crisis. Farmers and ranchers called its ‘hotline’ for support, information and referral provided by volunteers. (With a staff of two and an annual budget of $128,000, primarily from foundation grants, IRC is one of the smallest organizations of its type).”
The Idaho Rural Council is a member of the United Vision for Idaho coalition, another foundation-funded group that works to reduce the political clout of pro-business and genuine pro-consumer organizations. That coalition describes IRC as “a non-profit, grassroots organization committed to the preservation of family farms, ranches, rural communities and natural resources.”
One would think that the term “grassroots” would denote that IRC had at least a moderate amount of support from locals and members, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, IRC is so dependent on big-money foundations for its operating budget, it had to apply for a grant of $5,500 from the Jessie Smith Noyes foundation just “to help the Idaho Rural Council through a recent staff turnover.”
Overall, less than 2% of IRC’s income for the year 2000 came from membership dues and assessments (the real “grass roots” contributions). The rest came from — you guessed it — the same prescriptive and activist foundations that make the Conflict Industry go ‘round.
In today’s politically charged farm economy, the Idaho Rural Council exists primarily to provide justification for certain unfair advantages that its members want. The main recurring theme in IRC’s operations is a litany of complaints about its members’ competitors; IRC typically makes noise about an “unfair” business practice supposedly being employed by large-scale farmers, while using “farmer-friendly” language to distract the news media from the fact that its members are quietly engaging in exactly the same behavior.
For instance, the Idaho Rural Council constantly whines about the progress being made by the meatpacking industry toward “vertical integration” — a term that applies to meatpackers who own their own livestock instead of purchasing them from other farmers. IRC and other member groups in the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) perpetually propose and promote laws, regulations and procedural rules that attempt to tie packers’ hands and inevitably raise prices for consumers.
But what’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily on the gander’s radar screen. IRC board member Mabel Dobbs (who formerly represented IRC on the WORC board) runs a beef ranch that is part of the Rocking Z Cattle Company, which openly advertises that its own version of “vertical integration” (combining ranching, packing, and butchering by delivering meat directly to consumers) is perfectly fair and appropriate. “You’ll never return to the supermarket meat counter again… Guaranteed,” the Rocking Z website blares.
IRC and WORC also complain about federal farm subsidies, calling the taxpayer-funded handouts “unfair” and “anti-competitive” when they go to support “polluter” farms. Meanwhile, the Farm to Fork Exchange, a project whose fiscal sponsor is the Idaho Rural Council, boasts on its Internet site of its U.S. Department of Agriculture funding. And why is federal funding supposedly okay for the “Farm to Fork” program? Because it’s a marketing “collective” for “small farm businesses” in Southern Idaho, including growers with names like “Ernie’s Organics” and “Harvest from Harmony.” Indeed, Farm to Fork is a self-described group of 17 crop producers who are “committed to sustainable and/or organic agricultural practices.”
Double standards like these abound in the agricultural activism of the Left, a movement that is in favor of abolishing subsidies and benefits for only those farmers who have fallen into political disfavor. For the “good” farmers, though (i.e. those the IRC likes), “activism” has come to mean the elimination of competition for the benefit of its own membership. To its members and their fringe agricultural interests (e.g. organic and “sustainable” livestock growers), IRC is friendly to a fault. But to everyone outside that small circle of activists, including most truly successful farming operations — those whose achievements have allowed them to grow — IRC is downright hostile.