Harlan Anderson isn’t bashful. Now 71, he strongly believes in Minnesota agriculture and thinks agriculture needs an ombudsman with starch in their shorts. Anderson is a fourth generation Minnesota farmer with two sons and two grandsons. He also functions in rural development in his area. He started working in public policy in 1972 including efforts with U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone on the 1995 farm bill.
In a telephone visit with Anderson on April 27, he shared a few comments worth sharing with readers of The Land. I interrupted him as he was preparing a letter to Thom Petersen, Minnesota’s ag commissioner.
“I’m getting old and grey, but I love my profession of farming,” he said. “I cannot stand what is happening today — especially with the hog industry. Minnesota agriculture needs direction now, not at the end of the week! A million hogs piled up on the outside of Worthington is going to hurt farmers.
“The governor needs to get those workers back to work today. It is safer to work in that plant and risk getting the flu than it is for the National Guard troops we just sent to the Middle East.
“It is my opinion that we need to worry more about the 5.6 million live Minnesotans and the health of their food supply! Just a few thoughts from an old, grey, harried hay farmer.”
I’ve known Anderson for about 40 years. I did a story about his dad building a beef barn with slatted floors — perhaps the first in the beef industry. Anderson is a 1973 University of Minnesota graduate of the College of Veterinary Medicine. He worked with all livestock species; but in the Cokato area, dairy farmers predominated. Also, because of close proximity to the western suburbs of the Twin Cities, horses soon became a major nucleus of his veterinary business. And that led to the development of Square Meal Feeds and the equine nutrition business of Idle Acres which uses alfalfa and grass mixtures grown on their Cokato area farm to produce various Square Meal horse biscuits.
But today, Covid-19 is disrupting pork processing facilities. Plants which process about 25 percent of U.S. pork are now closed. Is euthanasia suddenly the only recourse for some swine farmers who suddenly don’t have a market for their butcher hogs?
Anderson shudders with the grim reality facing the swine industry. Much as he dislikes the process of a government buyout, he admits this is likely the only alternative right now. “The last thing a pig producer wants to do is kill his livestock. It’s a horrible situation. And yet today, farmers may have no choice. We have an incredible crisis in our livestock industry with farmers being unwilling participants.”
The African swine fever has decimated the swine industry of China. As they struggle to rebuild, could China become a big buyer of U. S. pork products? Gifted analysts suggest this could happen. But immediately? No firm answers so far.
However, Anderson responded, “As a student of politics you’ll have to ask China. Is China interested in making us look good, or in making us look bad? If you’re going to build a market on a country more interested in putting us down, that’s a scary market. Could China bail us out by suddenly buying extra pork? Yes, perhaps … but it’s not in China’s best interests to make us look good.”
If/when the fever scare subsides here in America, will the U.S. pork industry get back in balance with consumer demand? Will supply and demand start functioning again as it should?
That economic process guided and built U.S. agriculture for over 200 years noted Anderson, and he believes it can work again. “We just need to guard against too much government intervention — particularly as it pertains to agriculture. The bigger problem today is so few of our policy makers in Washington have any experience with agriculture. Collin Peterson, (U.S. Congressman, western Minnesota) once told me there’s only about 30 people in the entire U.S. Congress with a working knowledge of what drives American agriculture.
“I remember my Dad telling me about 40 years ago, ‘When it comes to farm bills, do you think those 525 characters in Washington are going to outfox 2.5 million farmers? And that is so vividly the problem today. We need ag leadership. That’s what it’s all about — especially in this immediate urgency of the virus scare.”
In this era of ‘merger mania,’ is get-big-or-get-out still the guiding doctrine for policy makers when it comes to solutions for agriculture? Anderson quickly retorted, “Well they say that because that’s where the money is coming from. Unfortunately they’re all about money anymore. The day after election they’re already asking for funds for their re-election. I’ve told you what my Mom said when people asked me about getting into politics: You shouldn’t hang around with a crowd like that.”
A positive supporter of Donald Trump, Anderson suggests he retire from the presidency rather than run for reelection. “I was a good friend of Jessie Ventura. I watched and respected the leadership he put into the governor’s chair. It was apparent to Ventura the Republicans and Democrats weren’t going to permit a third party into Minnesota politics.
“Now today, somewhat the same contrary opinion seems to surround our president. He is continually bamboozled by Democrats and even some Republicans. So I think our president should decline running for re-election this November. And he shouldn’t make this announcement until the week before the election. Then simply say to this Congress, ‘Okay you figure out how to do this job. I’m going home.”
Anderson has no time for the “elitist gallery” in Congress who blatantly ignored and belittled this presidency despite his remarkable can-do achievements. “We’ve had better relations with North Korea than with any previous president. We finally have trade agreements with other countries that are fair to both parties. And it’s apparent that key voices in the pharmaceutical industry will shut down their operations in China and relocate to America. This Congress, which seems willing to spend trillions to reenergize our American economy, apparently will provide a helping hand to U. S. agriculture also. But is this money getting down to individual farmers, individual hog producers to prevent their bankruptcy?”
Will we run low on food? That depends upon how long it takes to get the food processing companies — including U.S. meat packers — back in production. “Progress yes,” agreed Anderson. “But when I ask when, nobody has the answer. American agriculture is so strong. Farmers are outstanding at surviving. However, there will be some big hurts in the process.”