AMES, Iowa -- For Gene Irlbeck who farms near Wanda, Minn., the farm crisis has not gone away.
Irlbeck worked at his off-farm job at Jackpot Junction until midnight Friday and then drove here with his children for Saturday's Farm Aid VI concert. He met his wife, Diane, at Cyclone Stadium. She had attended a House Agriculture Committee hearing and town meeting here the day before.
More than 40,000 attended the concert to benefit America's family farmers at Cyclone Stadium on the campus of Iowa State University. Farm Aid VI was also televised on The Nashville Network. Farm Aid founders Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp were joined by more than 40 performers, including Bryan Adams, Arlo Guthrie, Ricky Van Shelton, Dwight Yoakam, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Ringo Starr and the Charlie Daniels Band.
Irlbeck said there's a lot of truth in what Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid, referred to at a press conference earlier in the day when she talked about family farmers being forced to work in town to support ``their farming habit.''
``If anything, things have gotten worse since 1985,'' said Irlbeck, chairman of the board of the Minnesota farm organization Groundswell. ``Commodity prices are lower. There's no profit. You can't get a return on investment, let alone return a profit.''
Irlbeck now sees a lot of the same things he saw in the mid-1980s -- poor prices and foreclosures.
``It's just like 1985, only different people,'' he said.
Irlbeck remains hopeful that things will change with the Clinton administration. Events like Farm Aid that call attention to the problem could help to bring about change, he said.
Irlbeck has two sons who would like to farm, but he sees little chance of that happening with conditions the way they are.
Delores Swoboda, A Redwood Falls, Minn., farmer who serves on the Groundswell board with Irlbeck, said she didn't think things could ever get worse than 1985-86 when her family almost lost their farm.
``But I think that things are worse now for many people,'' she said. ``About 85 percent of farm women are now working in town, and 50 percent of the men are working in town. In Minnesota we feel that we're losing a dairy farmer every day.''
Swoboda who attended Friday's Congressional hearing said that she's hopeful the dialogue concerning the need for a new vision in agriculture will lead to some changes.
``Maybe some legislators will wake up and realize that prices are too low,'' she said.
Larry Gage of Dos Palos, Calif., said that he just finished planting his cotton in time to make it to Farm Aid.
In addition to low farm prices, he said that he has had to struggle through seven years of drought.
He lost all but 300 acres of his 1,500-acre farming operation where he grows cotton, edible beans, fruits, vegetables, sugar beets and alfalfa.
At a press conference prior to the start of the concert, Farm Aid President Willie Nelson said that U.S. farm policy needs to find a way to put the seven million farmers who had been forced off their land back on the land.
``If we empty the streets and put the people back on the farm, you'll see the whole economy of this country turn around,'' Nelson said.
Some of the toughest talk for a change in farm policy came from singer/songwriter Neil Young, another one of Farm Aid's founders.
At the press conference, Young said that the people who could really affect change for farmers -- namely U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and Vice President Al Gore -- chose not to come.
``I thought when we got rid of Bush and Reagan there would be change, but where are they?'' Young asked about Gore and Espy. ``We don't want a handout, we want change. Where is the change? This is not a party. People are going out of business. People are dying. Our rural centers are evaporating.''
Young said he was not happy to be at Farm Aid VI.
``We shouldn't have to be doing this for 8 eight and 10 and 20 years,'' Young said. ``Farm Aid is not an American tradition. It's a bandaidBand-Aid. We ought to get rid of it.''
Ron Blackley, USDA chief of staff who attended Friday's and Saturday's events on behalf of Espy, said that the ag secretary was unable to attend because of a commitment that was scheduled before the date for Farm Aid VI had been announced.
He said that American farmers have a secretary of agriculture who is speaking and fighting for family farmers. He said that Espy demonstrated that during his six years in Congress.
U.S. Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., said that he understood Young's frustration. He said he's been dealing with the problems of the family farmer for years as a lawmaker. During the mid-1980's, he even recorded a song about the farm crisis.
``Give us a little bit of a chance,'' Peterson said to Young. ``We didn't get into this overnight.''
Espy, Peterson said, cares about family farmers.
``I know because I served with him on the House ag committee,'' Peterson said. ``He's on our side, but we can't get this done in three months. Come back in a year and if things are not changed, I'll be right up there with you.''
Peterson said that on the 45-member House Agriculture Committee, there are only six who vote for increasing farm prices.
``There is nothing Clinton or Espy can do if we don't get some changes on the House ag committee,'' Peterson said.
He urged eveyone to go home and find out how their members of Congress are voting.
``If they're voting wrong, get rid of them,'' he said.
Peterson, who is a professional musician, did a little performing himself at Farm Aid VI. He joined Nelson in singing, ``Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.''
Peterson said it was a lot of fun, but admitted that he forgot some of the words.
JoAnne Neuzil, a Riverside farmer and farm advocate, said that if politicians didn't get the message after listening to Young, they never will.
``He told it like it really was,'' she said. ``We can't go on and on with Farm Aid. He's right, it's a bandaidBand-Aid. Farmers don't need anything but a profit. We've lost so much time, land, spirit and life.''
Throughout the day, performers were teamed up with members of farm organizations to meet with the news media about the problems facing family farmers. Groups shared information on farm workers, sustainable agriculture, crisis efforts and farm policy.
Larry Curwin, a member of the Irish-American rock band Black 47, said family farmers need to do more to get their message across to urban residents. It takes publicity, said Kirwin, whose family lost its farm in Ireland. He and Atlantic farmers Denise O'Brien and Larry Harris made tentative plans for Black 47 to sponsor farmers to come to New York to tell urban residents about why it's important to support family farmers.
Since Farm Aid was founded in 1985, the organization has donated more than $10.7 million to more than 100 farm groups, hot lines, churches and social organizations in 43 states.@et @et