MARSHALL - Discussion of the upcoming Farm Bill continued in Marshall on Wednesday morning, as staff members for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., had a listening session at the Marshall-Lyon County Library. The crowd at the event was small, but included representatives from a fairly wide range of interests, including area farmers, conservationists and the food industry.
The meeting began with a video message from Klobuchar, outlining the senator's goals for the 2012 bill. Klobuchar said her priorities will include strengthening safety net programs for farmers, incentives for homegrown energy sources, reducing regulatory burdens on farmers, and conservation.
In the video, Klobuchar acknowledged that the new Farm Bill will have to be passed in "a difficult budget climate."
"It won't be easy, but it can be done," she said.
Adam Durand, a legislative assistant for Klobuchar, said four hearings on different portions of the bill have been held so far, and members of the Senate Agriculture Committee are pushing for fast progress on the bill.
Audience members shared some of their concerns for the Farm Bill in an open forum. In response to questions about crop insurance, Ron Verly answered that insurance is almost a necessity for farmers to break even in bad conditions.
"They need a safety net there if there were a drought or flood," he said. He added that banks often ask about crop insurance before they'll consider approving an operating loan for a farmer.
Dairy farmer Roger Peters said support for dairies was also needed, especially with fluctuating milk prices making it difficult to stay in business.
"We've had a roller coaster for a lot of years," Peters said. Dairy farmers weren't looking for free money, he said, but they can't keep producing milk below cost. Both producers and consumers would benefit from a more stable market, he said.
Alan Poff of the Schwan Food Co. spoke up with concerns involving the school lunch and nutrition portions of the bill. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently set new rules for school meals, and new regulations on foods served in secondary or a la carte lunch lines are coming, he said.
"Our concern is that they may be very tough on sodium reduction," Poff said.
Audience members offered a few different perspectives on energy issues. Former Redwood County Commissioner Gene Short said he hoped lawmakers would continue to support ethanol.
"It's making a really big difference for the agriculture community and farmers," Short said.
Poff said that while it may not fall under the farm bill's jurisdiction, he hoped that discussion of alternative fuels wouldn't neglect other domestically-produced fuels like propane. He estimated Schwan has about 5,000 trucks that run on propane.