Farmfest trade debate

Perdue says ‘markets will come back’ after farmer questions trade fight with China

GILFILLAN ESTATE — If any Minnesotans wanted to share a thought with President Donald Trump about life in rural America, Farmfest 2019 in Redwood County was a place where it might just get heard through the U.S. secretary of agriculture.

Sonny Perdue, a Georgia political leader with a professional background in agribusiness, fielded questions as part of Wednesday’s Farmfest farm policy forum.

In one of the longest exchanges of the forum, Perdue exchanged views of China trade policy with Tyler farmer Joel Schreurs, a member of both the national and state soybean association boards.

Scheurs questioned whether a hard-line federal trade stance with China would help America as intended, or lead to a series of hostile trade actions. Perdue replied that the Trump administration is taking a direct, decisive approach.

“Markets will come back,” Perdue said. “With China it will be where we get the best deal. It’s got to be a fair, free and reciprocal trade environment.”

The event was chaired by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., of Detroit Lakes and attended by four other U.S. House delegation members from Minnesota — Democrats Angie Craig of Eagan and Dean Philips of Deephaven along with Republicans Jim Hagedorn of Blue Earth and Pete Stauber of Hermantown. They were joined by Florida Republican House member Ted Yoho, originally from Minneapolis.

In an interview after the forum, Schreurs said he sees more of a risk for prolonged trade issues than what Perdue expressed.

“I’ve helped to build trade relations with China through soybean boards for about 20 years,” he said. “Their culture is different, and their way of doing business is different. From everything I’ve learned, I think they’ll be much more inclined to retaliate than to come to the table.”

Perdue also presented an opposing view to several questions that leaned toward market price changes that seemed to benefit other economic interests at the expense of average farmers.

“Sometimes there’s more of a yield out there than the countryside thought,” Perdue said. “Facts are facts. Data is data. It has nothing to do with (what anyone wants for) the markets.”

Additional farm and agribusiness representatives told the panel about recent actions that have helped the farm sector and shared ideas for what more could be done.

Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association President Mike Landuyt of Walnut Grove credited action on 2019 feed supplies with helping to save cattle operations. David Kolsrud of the American Coalition for Ethanol asked for more support mechanisms for a new phase of farmer-owned cooperative start-ups that could “let farmers invest in themselves.”

Steve Schlangen of Albany, chairman of the New Ulm-based Associated Milk Producers Inc., said dairy farmers have been helped by dairy margin insurance coverage, along with incentives aimed to further the utilization of premium quality hay.

Both Perdue and Peterson said they’d do research in response to a comment about federal Food and Drug Administration regulations that creating economic barriers to the production of pet food ingredients.

“The FDA should be doing nothing with agriculture,” Peterson said. “It should all be done in USDA. If that’s the way it’s done, we’ll all be a lot better off.”

Hagedorn said he sees widespread bipartisan support to sustain farm operations in communities such as Blue Earth. He added that a reduced total number of farms would take students away from local schools and shoppers away from small business districts that already face challenges.

Other panelists emphasized connections they have to agriculture. Craig mentioned her international exporting background, while Philips said all three business areas he’s been part of (vodka, ice cream and coffee) owe their success to the farm sector. Yoho mentioned his veterinary career, noting that many fundamentals in raising livestock are true everywhere.

In an interview after the forum, Philips said the dialogue was useful for building bipartnership, as well as mutual understanding between rural and urban locations.

“Everyone can work together on much of what I heard today, like using our crops to protect the soil,” Philips said. “This is the kind of event we need everywhere. It’s important for people to come together away from our screens, offices and homes.”

Paula Derickson, who is part of a family corn, soybean and grain operation in Highwater Township, Cottonwood County south of Walnut Grove, said she can always count on plenty of free pens at every Farmfest.

They’re useful during the school year when she teaches high school chemistry at Red Rock Central High School in Lamberton, about 15 miles southwest of the Gilfillan Estate Farmfest site in Redwood County.

She said that, even more importantly, Farmfest always leads to information useful to her family as they plan for a future that includes production agriculture.

“We come to Farmfest pretty much every year,” Derickson said. “It’s a tradition. It’s definitely worth the time we spend here, both walking around the booths and attending the forums.”

She said Farmfest farm policy dialogues serve as a good way to compare many firsthand points of view in an open, face-to-face atmosphere.

“I want to hear what all of them say,” she said. “I also want to gauge what they seem to know. That’s not always easy as one person in the 21st century.”