A Farm Bill Meeting was held June 11 in Hallock with (l-r) Carson Ouellette, LeRoy Stump and Paul Sunde represented Senator Tina Smith. (Enterprise Photo by Linda Andersen)
By Linda Andersen
“The farm bill touches every aspect of life in Minnesota … I need your help to build a farm bill that makes sense for Minnesota,” stated United States Senator from Minnesota Tina Smith in a video presentation at the June 11th Farm Bill meeting in Hallock.
A democrat, Senator Smith has served in the Senate since replacing Al Franken in January of 2018.
Staff representing Smith at the meeting included Carson Ouellette, Paula Sunde, and LeRoy Stumpf.
Fifteen Kittson County residents attended the meeting, with a majority of those fifteen offering input to Smith’s staff.
Though one might think of the Farm Bill as a bill that assists only farmers, information presented at the meeting revealed that it covers everything from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) to rural housing service programs to forestry assistance to Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Paula Sunde commented that a 1,000 page document is required to fully cover the new Farm Bill.
Sunde said that the Senate version of the bipartisan bill had been introduced on June 8th. “Largely it’s the same as the 2014 Farm Bill,” she stated, though she elaborated on some changes including an increase of a million acres of CRP and provisions for preparedness for a possible outbreak of foot and mouth disease in animals.
Sunde opened the meeting to comments. A partial description of remarks made included the following: Kelly Erickson, a farmer and director at American Crystal Sugar asked, “Are there any anti-sugar amendments on the Senate bill?”
Sunde responded, “I am not aware of any, but if there are, the Senator will be against them.”
County Commissioner Theresia Gillie brought up a problem with farmers doing refinancing. “When a farmer goes into their local bank and they get an FSA guarantee, FSA charges a fee of 1.5 percent of the value of the loan. So, if a grower refinances ag real estate and gets the guarantee, that land owner has to pay that. So on a one million dollar loan, that fee runs about $15,000. Farmers normally don’t go into the bank to refinance for no reason. They go in to refinance to reclaim working capital to get their loans current. If a farmer is doing this, that 1.5 percent is a lot of money when you are feeling like you don’t have any already.”
Dan Younggren, a farmer and president of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, offered his thoughts on the necessity of crop insurance – “Crop insurance is something we desperately need…We can’t settle for any less than we’re getting.”
Problems associated with the requirement that truckers use electronic devices in order to enforce the law which limits drivers to 11 hours of driving daily was discussed. Kennedy Farmer Tom Dowdle explained his own negative personal experience with the law. He said he hired a group to bale straw, but they were unable to remove all the straw bales because of the electronic device law. “We still have piles in the field we’re farming around,” he stated.
Another Kennedy farmer Keith Dziengel agreed with Dowdle. He said he understands that people are getting killed because drivers are driving too long, but “there’s no common sense whatsoever” in the current law. “They’re going to have to soften for these guys (truckers).”
According to Carson Ouellette, the 2018 Farm Bill provides “relaxed rules for people hauling livestock,” but doesn’t address other truckers.
Chase Boen, loan officer with AgCountry Farm Credit Services in Hallock, asked if farmers would be able to make new choices under the new Farm Bill.
“First the Farm Bill has to become law,” replied Sunde, with the reminder that often bills take time to pass.
Kelly Turgeon, county executive director of the USDA in Hallock, offered comments on several areas during the meeting, including changes in ARC. When asked later to clarify information, he offered these comments: “Producers participating in the ARC-County program have an interest in proposed changes which would use Risk Management Agency RMA yield data to establish average county crop yields. Currently county average yields are established using National Average Statistical Services data which are based upon producer surveys. Producers who carry crop insurance report yields to RMA for production history purposes. Support of the proposed change is based upon yields being established using actual producer reported crop yields and not surveys and should be more reflective of county average yields.”
Turgeon also offered comment on the continuance of FSA County Committees. “Locally landowners and farm operators elected Farm Service Agency County Committee Representatives who oversee farm program implementation at the county level. The continuance of FSA County Committees in the farm bill provides a great opportunity for local input in farm bill administration.”
Senator Tina Smith’s staff came to Hallock looking for input on the 2018 Farm Bill and received pertinent information from the farmers and ag business leaders of Kittson County.