Ideas for Farm Bill a hot topic at Farmfest
GILFILLAN ESTATE — Dozens of farmers, ranchers and organizational leaders voiced their opinion on what should be in the next Farm Bill to U.S. House Agricultural Committee members, drawing a big crowd to the Farmfest Forum building for 2-and-1/2 hours Thursday.
“We’re under a lot of financial stress in agriculture now with low prices. We can produce more than we use. We need the agriculture market,” said Kevin Paap, Minnesota Farm Bureau President and a Blue Earth County farmer.
Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish said there are attempts to delay upgrading food nutrition labels and cut SNAP (food stamps).
“I’d urge you not to do that,” Wertish said. “A higher percentage of rural people are in the SNAP program than there are in urban areas.”
Wertish said broadband expansion to rural areas, high healthcare costs are huge issues.
“Not everyone can work off the farm to get healthcare benefits. Take the politics out of it and get something done,” Wertish said.
A number of farmers said taxpayers don’t need to subsidize large agricultural operators.
Jerry Matzner of Century Farm Dairy near Clarkfield said a 1,500 acre organic farm operation supports 10 families and three more families are being mentored into organics.
Other conservation-minded farmers called the discovery of more and more nitrates in rural wells as “a slow, unfolding crisis in agriculture.”
“Water is critical for the public good,” said a Le Sueur County farmer. “Crop diversity is also important.”
Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said SNAP benefits combat hunger and are used by 12 percent of the state’s population and 70 percent of those on SNAP are disabled, so continued funding is critical for folks, many of which are the “working poor.”
Other farmers called for a year-round visa program for foreign workers instead of the current 10-month program that caused a dairy farmer to milk just twice a day instead of three times, cutting milk production.
“Domestic organic farmers can’t keep up with demand, so foreign products are making up the difference. The organic market is the fastest-growing sector of U.S. agriculture. It needs more funding for research and certification,” said Organic Farmers Association Director Kate Mendenhall.
Minnesota Association of Townships Executive Director Gary Pedersen said rural broadband expansion should be considered a “have to be” and a utility.
Rural New Ulm farmer Steve Hoffman called for signing on to the DAIRY PRIDE Act — new legislation that would punish companies for calling soy milk, “soy milk.”
“Soy and almond products should be labeled drinks, not milk,” Hoffman said.
DAIRY PRIDE stands for “Defending Against Limitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday.”
Hoffman said exports with Mexico and other countries is needed for agricultural market share.
Mike Schneider of Schneider Farms LLP of Sacred Heart called organic agriculture “a real bright spot. Let’s work to keep it up,” he said.
Wabasso farmer Paul Sobocinski, Land Stewardship Project organizer, said the next Farm Bill needs to help family farms and beginning farmers.
“We need to promote putting more people on the land, not less,” Sobocinski said. “We need a Farm Bill for the public good. We need to promote more crop diversity like oats.”
Franklin farmer James Kanne said there is plenty of money in farming but too often, it doesn’t stay in farmer’s hands very long.
U.S. House Agricultural Committee Chairman Michael Conway of Texas said the U.S. Constitution will be 230 years old soon.
“Are we a monarchy or a republic?” Conway said. “We’re a republic if we can keep it. Stay on the moral high ground. Ask God to keep it that way. You have to live a code, stand up for truth and values.”