MORGAN, Minn. — The “Designing the Ideal Farm Bill in a Changing World” forum at Farmfest offered a glimpse at what the panelists wanted the next Farm Bill to look like. With the current Farm Bill expiring in 2023, it’s once again time to examine what works in this Farm Bill and what can be changed to fit the current agricultural landscape better. The panel of ag industry people also had the chance to speak about a variety of issues affecting the producers and constituents they represent.
Former Minnesota congressman and one-time chairman of the house agriculture committee, Collin Peterson, acknowledges that while the current Farm Bill isn’t perfect, it’s not too bad. “I think that Farm Bill is as good as it’s going to get.” Peterson hopes that legislatures hang on to the current Farm Bill. He’s concerned about four more years of disaster payments and the government spending. “We have to contribute to some of this.”
Not being in congress anymore, Peterson sees gaps of where the Democrats aren’t representing agricultural areas. “There’s almost no Democrats left in farm districts.” That concerns him as that makes it more difficult for representatives on both sides to agree to comprehensive ag policies. The ag committees are now filled with 25 percent of new members. Peterson believes that those in agriculture will have to spend more time and money educating politicians on the real world. “I’m going to do what I can to remain engaged,” Peterson said.
He admits that new people may bring in fresh ideas, which isn’t a bad thing. “Sometimes new people will bring new perspectives.” He feels that overall, the country is divided. “I don’t know how we’ll come together.”
For incoming president of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, Don Schiefelbein, the current Farm Bill could use a little help. “There’s some tweaking that need to be done.” There’s frustration on the beef side when it comes to prices. “Demand for beef is at a record level.” Unfortunately, packers are buying low, selling high.
Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Burea,u looks at the Farm Bill as multi-faceted. “I think we’ve got to think of the four-corner posts.” Those four are the keeping the food supply safe, nutrition assistance, protecting natural resources and the support of risk management tools/crop protection. “You can’t do one-size-fits-all in a Farm Bill.”
Gary Wertish, Minnesota Farmers Union president, believes that the Farm Bill provides a safety net for producers. Examining climate change, Wertish feels that producers are integral in making a positive difference. “We think farmers can be part of the solution.”
Looking to the future, Wertish is concerned how challenging it can be to begin farming. “If you’re not from a family already established, it’s hard to get in. It’s a stressful like to.”
Tom Haag, vice president of the National Corn Growers Association, believes crop insurance is instrumental to farmers today. “Thank goodness we have the safety net of crop insurance.” Haag believes there are politicians in Washington D.C. who would like to get rid of it as they think it’s a handout. Haag explained that it’s not. Farmers pay into it — as does the government.
Lucas Sjostrom, executive director of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, pointed out the Dairy Margin Coverage program was dairy producers’ second crack at dairy insurance — especially for small farms — as well as Dairy Revenue Protection. “Dairy farmers in the past six, seven years went from basically having no risk-management tools at the federal level to now having two.”
According to Sjostrom, about 85 percent of Minnesota dairy producers signed up for Dairy Margin Coverage and then a significant percent signed up for Dairy Revenue Protection, which is the crop insurance product. “Between those two, Minnesota dairy farmers will come out the pandemic, at least those who signed up, better than others. It’s hard to poke holes and see where major changes are needed in those two programs at this point.”
Sjostrom believes the dairy industry is on the forefront of being strong stewards. “We pledge for cleaner water; we pledge for bio-diversity.” The goal is to be net-zero industry by 2050. “We’ve been talking about sustainability since we were vilified in the early 2000s.”
For Murdock, Minn. farm operator, Mike Yost, he understands that mandates, quotas and subsidies can be gone with a stroke of a pen. “The best farm policy is market driven.”
When it comes to what the next Farm Bill will look like, there seems to be varying opinions on what needs to be left in and what needs to be added. What is known though, is that more focus on agriculture is needed to address the concerns of producers — especially during challenging times — like this growing season is turning out to be for many Minnesota farmers.