Farm Bureau Members Travel to Washington, D.C.

Twenty-seven farmers and ranchers from across Minnesota met with their members of Congress in Washington, D.C. during the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation’s (MFBF) Farmers to Washington, D.C. trip September 15-19.

Participants met with Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken; members of Congress Tim Walz, Erik Paulsen, Keith Ellison, Tom Emmer, Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan; and staff members from the offices of John Kline and Betty McCollum.

Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation

Minnesota Farm Bureau YF&R Members took time out from meetings with elected officials in DC to chat with AFBF President Bob Stallman (Photo from MN Farm Bureau FB page (facebook.com/MNFarmBureau/photos

During their meetings, Farm Bureau members discussed the role of biotechnology both in food production and food labeling, and thanked Representatives Walz, Kline, Paulsen, McCollum, Emmer and Peterson for voting for the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act which establishes a federal, voluntary GMO labeling program. The participants also urged the Congressional delegation to act quickly on extending expired tax provisions including Section 179: Small Business Expensing and bonus depreciation, discussed the effects of the Endangered Species Act and reminded them of the importance of passing a long-term transportation bill.

In addition, attendees met with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking for clarification on the new rule that expands the definition of “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. Farm Bureau members also discussed the Renewable Fuels Standard as EPA continues to look at volume requirements for 2014-2016. Farm Bureau supports returning the requirements to match the levels set by Congress in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation

After meeting with the EPA to discuss the WOTUS rule, the Minnesota Farm Bureau YF&R members stopped to visit Minnesota Congressman Nolan (Photo from facebook.com/MNFarmBureau/photos)

“This experience outfits young farmers and ranchers with the tools they need to become strong advocates for agriculture and rural Minnesota,” said Miles and Sarah Kuschel, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Committee members. “It also brings politics and rulemaking to life for our Farm Bureau members and instills the importance of discussing the issues that are important to us. If we are not sharing our story, then someone else will be.”

Some of the trip attendees included AFBF YF&R Committee members, state YF&R and Promotion & Education (P&E) Committee members and YF&R contest finalists.

YF&R contest finalists earned this trip by competing in the 2014 MFBF YF&R Achievement Award and Excellence in Agriculture contests held during the MFBF Annual Meeting in November 2014 or the 2015 Discussion Meet held at the MFBF Leadership Conference in January. In addition to the Washington, D.C. trip, state contest winners receive a $500 cash prize, a trip to the AFBF YF&R national leadership conference and a trip to compete in the AFBF contests. For more information about the MFBF YF&R program, contact your county offices or visit fbmn.org.

Minnesota Farm Bureau representing Farmers • Families • Food is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureaus across Minnesota. Members make their views known to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public. Programs for young farmers and ranchers develop leadership skills and improve farm management. Promotion and Education Committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for children. Join Farm Bureau today and support our efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, www.fbmn.org.

For more information on the Minnesota Farm Bureau log onto www.fbmn.orgwww.Facebook.com/MNFarmBureau or www.Twitter.com/MNFarmBureau.

Attend the Minnesota Farm Bureau Annual Meeting

The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) Annual Meeting will be November Minnesota_Farm_Bureau_Logo_345x14319-21 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Bloomington. The conference will have a variety of sessions on agricultural issues, leadership development and the Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) contests and award banquets.

Keynote Speaker: Matt Rush

Matt Rush will be the keynote speaker at the noon luncheon on Saturday, November 21.

Matt Rush

Matt Rush is a fourth generation farmer and rancher in New Mexico, and he’ll give the keynote presentation at this year’s Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting on Saturday, November 21.

Matt Rush is the 4th generation in his family to be a New Mexico farmer and cattle rancher. He and his dad partner on a ranch, and he is also the former executive vice president of the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau.

He was selected to represent American agriculture in Germany as part of an agricultural exchange program and has been honored as the Students in Free Enterprise Alumnus of the Year. He serves at the request of the Governor on the New Mexico State Fair Commission and on the Natural Lands Protection Committee. He also serves on the American Farm Bureau’s Foundation for Agriculture Board of Directors.

Rush is passionate about his values, the future of our children and the American way of life.

Schedule

The voting delegate session will begin at 8 a.m. on Friday, November 20. There will be a social hour with elected officials beginning at 4 p.m. The awards banquet, President’s address and Foundation auction will also be held on Friday beginning at 5:30 p.m.

On Friday from 8:30 a.m. until noon, attendees can participate in a service project at Second Harvest Heartland or assist the Promotion & Education (P&E) Committee with agriculture in the classroom visits. From 1:30-3:30 p.m., there will be a Creative Lab where participants can learn about and make a few fun, trendy and creative decorating ideas for the home. The cost will be $20 to cover supplies. Pre-registration is required for all of these activities.

On Saturday, November 22, members can attend educational sessions and the Discussion Meet competition. The noon luncheon will include the finals of the YF&R Discussion Meet and the announcement of the YF&R award winners.

The meeting will conclude on Saturday with the grand prize drawing – a non-transferrable air and hotel expense paid trip for one paid Farm Bureau member to the American Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, January 8-13, 2016.

Speakers and Panels

There will be three general sessions for participants to attend on Saturday, November 21.

In the “What do Farm Bureau Members Need to Know about the Economy?” session, hear from an economist on how the economy impacts Minnesota farmers and ranchers, what economic information you should be tracking and why farmers and ranchers should care about the economy.

The second session is “Farm Bureau Members Making a Difference on Local Issues.” Learn how Farm Bureau members and county Farm Bureaus can interact with local decision makers and what types of citizen input decision makers looking for.

The final session will be “Telling Your Conservation Story.” Learn by example from farm leaders who have found different avenues to tell their story through tours, blogs and the media.

Contests

The always anticipated semifinals and final rounds of the YF&R Discussion Meet and the final Achievement Award interviews and Excellence in Agriculture presentations will be held throughout the day on Saturday, November 21. The Final Four Discussion Meet will be held during the noon luncheon.

This year, the collegiate Discussion Meet will also be held in conjunction with the MFBF Annual Meeting. The winner of this contest will represent Minnesota at the American Farm Bureau Federation Collegiate Discussion Meet in February 2016.

Banquets and Other Highlights

Many distinguished Farm Bureau members will be recognized at the Friday, November 20, banquet including: Awards of Excellence, Honorary Life Awards, the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award and the MFB Foundation Awards. The Friday awards banquet will also feature MFBF President Kevin Paap’s address and the MFB Foundation fundraising auction.

 Registration

For registration information, contact your county Farm Bureau or Lori Wiegand at 651-768-2102 or lwiegand@fbmn.org. Registration forms and online registration information can be found at fbmn.org. Pre-registration is required by October 30. Register at the conference after October 30. After October 30, an additional $5 will be charged per meal.

Minnesota Farm Bureau representing Farmers • Families • Food is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureaus across Minnesota. Members make their views known to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public. Programs for young farmers and ranchers develop leadership skills and improve farm management. Promotion and Education Committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for children. Join Farm Bureau today and support our efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, www.fbmn.org.

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For more information on the Minnesota Farm Bureau log onto www.fbmn.orgwww.Facebook.com/MNFarmBureau or www.Twitter.com/MNFarmBureau.

If you’re new to just what the Farm Bureau is, here’s an example of what kinds of issues the organization works on for farmers all over the country.

 

Minnesota Farm Bureau asks for support of S.1140

Stop EPA’s Waters of the U.S. Rule

“On August 28, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will have control over citizen’s land and a federal permit will likely be required in order to conduct any activity on land that causes any material to be deposited onto a regulated low spot, wetland or ditch (for example, applying fertilizer, applying pest control products or even just moving dirt) or face significant fines,” said Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Paap. “EPA is overreaching their authority, and we need your help to stop them.”

Farm Bureau Federation

The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation wants citizens to contact their Senators to tell them to put a halt to the EPA’s Waters of the US Rule. (photo from fbmn.org)

“Contact Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken and ask them to support S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, which will stop the EPA from implementing the final rule and re-propose a rule that actually follows the limits set by Congress and affirmed by the Supreme Court,” said Paap.

“The final rule is even broader and more unclear than we thought it could be. One major concern is the expanded definition of tributaries,” said Paap. “Any land feature with the ‘presence of physical indicators of a bed, bank and ordinary high water mark’ would be considered a ‘tributary,’ and therefore a Waters of the U.S., even if there is no water there.”

“In addition, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers can use ‘desktop tools’ (e.g. LIDAR, aerial photography and NRCS Soil Surveys) or base it on past conditions rather than current conditions to make a determination on whether or not you will need a federal permit,” said Paap. “It will be impossible for landowners to know which ditches are excluded.”

Kevin Paap

Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap is encouraging farmers and other Minnesotans to call their Senators and ask them to put a stop to the EPA’s Waters of the US Rule. (photo from twitter.com)

“With just a few weeks until this rule goes into effect, we need the Senate to pass S. 1140 as soon as possible. That means you need to act now,” said Paap. “Go to fbmn.org to send a message to Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken. Every voice counts!”

Minnesota Farm Bureau representing Farmers • Families • Food is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureaus across Minnesota. Members make their views known to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public. Programs for young farmers and ranchers develop leadership skills and improve farm management. Promotion and Education Committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for children. Join Farm Bureau today and support our efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, www.fbmn.org.

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For more information on the Minnesota Farm Bureau log onto www.fbmn.orgwww.Facebook.com/MNFarmBureau or www.Twitter.com/MNFarmBureau.

Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act Passes U.S. House

Food Labeling

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act is moving on to the Senate for debate and a vote after it passed the US House of Representatives this week (Photo from govtrack.us)

In a victory for consumer choice, science and fact-based food labeling, the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act today with a solidly bipartisan vote.  Today’s vote is a testament to the reasonable approach this legislation takes to ensure consumers have access to the information they want while avoiding the costly price hikes and misinformation associated with a patchwork of food labeling laws.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, introduced in March by Congressmen Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), guarantees that federal regulators will remain in charge of food safety and labeling in the United States, just as they have been for decades.  The bill also creates a uniform labeling standard for foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  Additionally, the legislation creates a national GMO-free certification program, modeled on the widely popular National Organic Program, which will give consumers who prefer to buy non-GMO foods a transparent, consistent means of doing so.

Food Labeling Act

Congressmen Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) are the primary sponsors of the recently passed Food Labeling Act, which moves on to the Senate (photo from foodlogistics.com)

“Today’s vote is the result of members of Congress standing up for science, common-sense and the well-being of their constituents,” said CFSAF spokesperson Claire Parker.  “We offer a wholehearted thank you to members who voted yes today and advanced this legislation that protects consumer choice, food safety and accurate and informative food labeling.”

This legislation was precipitated by the attempts of anti-GMO activists to pass mandatory GMO labeling laws in states across the country.  Mandatory GMO labeling ballot measures were introduced in four states, but fortunately all were soundly rejected by the voters.  Vermont’s legislature passed its own mandatory GMO labeling law that is set to take effect next July.

A patchwork approach to food labeling will dramatically slow interstate commerce as farmers and food producers are forced to adjust to differing standards.  The resulting costs to food manufacturers and grocery bill price hikes for consumers will be significant.  These laws would also increase consumer uncertainty as they are littered with carve outs and exemptions.  Vermont’s law, for instance would lead to a can of vegetable soup being labeling while a can of vegetable beef soup would be exempt.

“The negative consequences of a 50 state patchwork of labeling laws were fully understood by members of Congress,” said Parker.  “They acted so that the people they represent are not made victims of the extreme agenda of anti-GMO activists.  Consumer choice, science and fact-based labeling won the day.”

Prior to the vote on final passage, the House defeated an amendment offered by Peter DeFazio.  The defeat of the DeFazio mandatory labeling amendment was a resounding rebuttal of an anti-science agenda and a victory for consumer choice and transparency.  In 2013, the Democrat-controlled Senate soundly defeated, by a 71-27 margin, a mandatory labeling amendment authored by Senator Bernie Sanders that was intended to shove the FDA out of the labeling space it has occupied for generations.  Today, 70% of the House voted against another mandatory labeling amendment.  Together, these votes show Congress has no appetite for mandatory and misleading and punitive labeling for safe food products in Congress.  Since there is wide agreement a patchwork of state labeling laws will harm interstate commerce, it is time for members of House and Senate to come together behind the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act and give consumers the consistent national solution they deserve.

The US Senate is the next stop for the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling bill (photo from edusolution.com)

The US Senate is the next stop for the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling bill (photo from edusolution.com)

“The focus now turns to the U.S. Senate where there are already indications of solid bipartisan support,” Parker continued.  “We look forward to engaging Senators in the weeks ahead and securing their support for this bipartisan legislation that will ensure people across the country continue to have access to consistent science-based standards for food labeling.”

MN Farm Bureau Opposes Final WOTUS Rule

Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) has significant concerns with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final rule defining “waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

“EPA continues to conduct a messaging campaign to reassure farmers, ranchers and landowners that this rule is harmless. Unfortunately, when we actually read the rule, this is not the case,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap. “This final rule provides no clarity, no certainty and no limits on agency power.”

“Contrary to EPA’s assurances that the final rule would address agriculture’s concerns, it turns out the final rule is even broader than the proposed rule,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap. “For example, the definition of “tributary” has been broadened to include landscape features that may not even be visible to the human eye, or that existed historically but are no longer present. Agencies will be able to use desktop tools, such as aerial photographs and mapping tools the average farmer does not have access to, to make that regulatory determination without ever leaving their desks.”

Kevin Paap

Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap (photo from twitter.com/kevinpaap)

“EPA also added entirely new possible jurisdictional features that were not subject to public review during the proposed rule, including prairie potholes, which will affect a significant portion of Minnesota,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap.

“Unfortunately, the rule-making process has failed farmers, ranchers and landowners. Agriculture’s concerns were dismissed as ‘silly’ and ludicrous,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap. “It’s hard to make rules that are workable outside of the Washington D.C. beltway when the agencies made it quite clear that they were genuinely not open to considering objections to the rule.”

“Now that we know what we are working with, it is critical that the Senate takes action,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap. “EPA and the Corps have run around Congress, and it’s time the Senate reestablishes their oversight role in the development of agency rules. MFBF strongly supports legislation that would send EPA back to the drawing board to come up with a rule that is practical and actually achieves environmental benefits in a clear way. We urge Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken to stand up for farmers, ranchers and landowners and support the Federal Water Quality Protection Act.”

Ditch the Rule

Farm Bureau wants the EPA to ditch the controversial Waters of the US Rule (photo from ditchtherule.fb.org)

Minnesota Farm Bureau – Farmers ● Families ● Food is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureau associations across Minnesota. Members make their views known to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public. Programs for young farmers and ranchers develop leadership skills and improve farm management. Promotion and Education Committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for children. Join Farm Bureau today and support efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, www.fbmn.org.

Buffer strip proposal creates Minnesota controversy

Buffer strips

Buffer strips between farm fields and permanent waterways are designed to help improve water quality in Minnesota. (photo from www.topps-life.org)

Buffer strips are a hot topic of conversation in Minnesota agriculture. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) defines buffer strips as “small areas or strips of land in permanent vegetation, designed to intercept pollutions and manage other environmental concerns.”

A recent push by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and other legislators seeks to push all buffer strips along waterways in Minnesota to a uniform 50 feet in length. Farmers are fighting back against what they call a ‘one size fits all’ proposal.

A recently introduced bill before the Minnesota Legislature would require farmers to install a 50-foot buffer strip of permanent vegetation between their fields and adjacent bodies of water. The strips work to help filter phosphates, nitrates, and sediment from running off the fields and into any nearby water, thereby helping to improve water quality.

On Friday, April 3, Governor Dayton and other officials met with Austin area farmers to discuss the proposal. The Austin Daily Herald quoted Mark Novak, who farms near Wells, Minnesota, telling the Governor, “With 33 feet of buffers, very little water is going from my land into the ditch. You want me to add another 15 feet?”

Governor Mark Dayton

MN Governor Mark Dayton recently met with Worthington-area farmers to discuss his push for 50-foot buffer strips in the state. (Photo from www.wctrib.com)

“All buffers are not the same,” said Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson on a recent interview with Dustin Hoffmann of KLGR Radio in Redwood Falls. “One size does not fit all.”

Peterson said the Farmers Union clearly stated that there is a need for buffer strips during a recent board meeting. “Again, it greatly varies throughout the state, and one size does not fit all. We do want to work with state agencies to improve water quality, but we need a common sense approach.”

“It’s critical here that local officials and local control be exerted over some of the decisions that may be made in the countryside,” said Peterson. “We need to get an inventory and we need to find funding for making decisions on buffers. We need to work with local officials on that, and that’s what we’re recommending to the Legislature.”

State Representative Paul Anderson wrote a piece on the EchoPress.com website, quoting Howard Midje, a retired Minnesota state design engineer at the former State Conservation Service (what is now the National Resources Conservation Service). He quoted Midje as saying, “The Governor’s buffer strip requirement the largest land grab in state history.”

MN Republican Representative Paul Anderson of District 12B (photo from www.house.leg.state.mn.us)

MN Republican Representative Paul Anderson of District 12B (photo from www.house.leg.state.mn.us)

Midje said maintaining buffer strips and pheasant habitat, which the Governor (an avid pheasant hunter) wants to see more of, is not always workable. “Buffer strips need to be mowed and clipped several times in a season to keep the grass short and to keep trees from putting down roots. If grass is allowed to grow over two inches tall, it will simply bend over when water flows through it, and it loses its effectiveness at trapping sediment.”

Anderson said he doesn’t want what he referred to as a “Cookie cutter approach. We should be targeting high-impact areas, where buffers will do the most good. We should be doing it in a way that fairly compensates farmers for the loss of productive land.”

The KLGR radio website reported that originally, the Governor promoted this idea back in December as a way to improve pheasant habitat. The original proposal would turn over enforcement of the buffers to the DNR, and take it away from the Soil and Water Conservation Service, who have been enforcing the laws currently on the books. The idea of DNR enforcement on private lands was called “unacceptable” at a recent listening session at the Redwood Falls Community Center.

One Redwood-area farmer was quoted as saying, “This feels like nothing more than a land grab by the DNR. We already have water conservation buffer rules on the books. How about we do a better job of funding that, instead of spending money on a whole new initiative?”

Senator Gary Dahmes of Redwood Falls visited with KLGR Radio recently, and said he doesn’t support the bill for several reasons. “In 4 of the 6 counties I represent, we have 1,423 miles of dredged ditches. With a 50-foot buffer strip,that is 16,100 acres. If you take that number times the average sales price registered at the court house, that’s $114,000,000 in agricultural assets that we’re asking our farmers to set aside, without any way of making money off it.”

MN District 16 Senator Gary Dahms, a Republican from Redwood Falls.  (Photo from senate.mn)

MN District 16 Senator Gary Dahms, a Republican from Redwood Falls. (Photo from senate.mn)

Dahmes wants to know why that much land should be taken out of food production. “We have to double our food supply by 2050 (because of rising population), and this works against that.

Bruce Peterson is the President of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, and farms near Northfield. He posed a question in a guest column on southernminn.com: “How many non-farm people even know farmers already use buffer strips?”

He speaks from experience. “I already use these practices on my farm near Northfield to protect several waterways that flow near my fields. Each of these practices is sized and designed specifically for their location in a way that maximizes water quality benefits.”

Peterson wants to know who is to blame for the knowledge gap?

“In my opinion, it’s farmers,” he said. “Farmers have not done a good job of telling their conservation story, and we’re losing the public perception battle because of it.”

After the recent meeting in Redwood Falls, Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap encouraged farmers to speak up.

“We need to be the ones to improve the image of agriculture,” he said. “Don’t approach the issue defensively. Instead, educate the public. Show them what we are doing to maintain land and water quality.”

He said farmers know the long-term importance of protecting resources.

“Many of us are descendants of the people who built the farms we live on,” said Paap. “My own son lives in the house his great-Grandfather built. He sleeps in the same room his Grandfather was born in. We need to show that we know the importance of the land we’ve been given, and the importance of maintaining it for future generations.”

 

 

National beef checkoff discussions hit snag

A push to increase the national beef checkoff from 1 dollar to 2 dollars per head of cattle sold is approaching its fourth year of discussion, and recently took a step forward. Several of the nation’s largest Ag organizations came together in a USDA-sanctioned Beef Checkoff Enhancement group, with the goal of putting together a proposal on increasing the checkoff in a manner they could support.

The discussion on how to proceed has been controversial. Several major Ag groups signed a Memorandum of Understanding on how to proceed with the change. However, 3 of the original Ag groups withdrew from the discussions, citing concerns over the checkoff structure and how the money is allocated to different groups.

“The working group has sat down for formal meetings roughly 19 times over 3-plus years,” said Dale Moore, the Public Policy Executive Director for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “It’s largely been a work of a number of groups that represent folks who pay into the beef checkoff.”

The discussions actually involve more than just raising the checkoff dollar amount.

“It’s got a number of facets too it,” said Moore. “Fundamentally, we at the Farm Bureau support an increase in the checkoff because there’s always more work to do, and we need the resources to do it. Discussions also included some potential changes on how those dollars are spent, but by and large, it’s been about how to reach a consensus on moving forward to facilitate increasing the checkoff.”

Dale Moore is the Executive Director of Public Policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, based in Washington, D.C. (Photo from fbvideos.org)

Dale Moore is the Executive Director of Public Policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, based in Washington, D.C. (Photo from fbvideos.org)

The talks on changing the process of spending checkoff dollars are where the discussions bogged down.

“The Beef Promotion Act was passed in 1985, and it was one of the most descriptive pieces of legislation I’ve ever read,” said Chandler Goule, the Vice President of Programs for the National Farmers Union. “It literally says who can sit on what committee, who has what authority, how many people from the Federation (of state Beef Councils) are on the Beef Operating Committee, and how many other people sit on the BOC too.”

“There’s only 20 people on the BOC,” said Goule, “and 10 seats go to the Federation of State Beef Councils. Since the Federation is a subsidiary of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, all you need is one more person from NCBA and they control all of the authorization requests.”

Goule added, “That’s why you’ve seen NCBA get anywhere from 93 to 95 percentof the checkoff dollars. Over the last ten years, that adds up to half a billion dollars. Because of them executing a large number of contracts, they have an indirect financial benefit that frees up other resources to lobby against things like Country of Origin Labeling, the RFS, and even the Farm Bill.”

Chandler Goule is the Vice President of Programs for the National Farmers Union in Washington, D.C.  (Photo from CommodityClassic.org)

Chandler Goule is the Vice President of Programs for the National Farmers Union in Washington, D.C. (Photo from CommodityClassic.org)

In a recent press release, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF USA) called the new proposal to increase the national Beef Checkoff “window dressing.”

“It’s designed to deflect attention away from the NCBA’s misappropriation of over $216,000 in producer money,” said R-CALF USA President Bill Bullard, “as well as Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s failure to maintain the integrity of the program.”

Bullard ads, “The checkoff has become a USDA-supported cattle tax that helps NCBA to fight policy proposals that support independent farmers and ranchers across the nation. It’s exemplified by NCBA’s ongoing litigation and lobbying effort to eliminate the widely popular country of origin labeling for beef.”

Bullard said the new proposal doesn’t eliminate the conflict of interest in which the NCBA houses and controls the Federation of State Beef Councils, and the Federation in turn controls half the votes needed to consistently award the lion’s share of the checkoff dollars to NCBA.

Bill Bullard is the President of RCALF-USA, one of the organizations that didn’t sign the recent MOA on raising the national beef checkoff from 1 to 2 dollars (Photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

Bill Bullard is the President of RCALF-USA, one of the organizations that didn’t sign the recent MOA on raising the national beef checkoff from 1 to 2 dollars (Photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

“The process is a little confusing,” said John Schaefer, a beef farmer from Buffalo Lake, and a former member of both the Beef Board and the Beef Promotion Operating Committee.

“One of the provisions of the national checkoff is the Beef Board and the Operating Committee cannot do any programs themselves,” said Schaefer, a Minnesota Beef Board member from 2007-2013. “They are required to contract with national non-profit industry organizations. By far, the biggest amount of money goes to NCBA. It states right in the Beef Promotion Act that the Federation of State Beef Councils is an eligible contractor.”

Schaefer adds, “That’s where most of the controversy lies at. The organization that gets most of the contracts also has ten of the votes guaranteed on the organization that decides how to spend the checkoff dollars.”

The way the structure is set up is part of the problem.

“Ever year, legal counsel instructed the Operating Committee to maintain an arm’s length relationship with the contractors,” said Schaefer, who spent 5 years on the Beef Promotion Operating Committee. “You have ten representatives of a contracting organization, including their chairman and vice-chairman who are making that decision, and it’s a difficult task to serve to masters.”

“That said, the people I worked with on the Beef Board were conscientious people, and were diligent in carrying out their responsibilities,” said Schaefer. “They were good people put in a rather tough situation.”

Despite the way the checkoff is set up, Schaefer feels it’s still efficient.

“While it’s easy for outsiders to get the wrong impression, it’s operates very efficiently,” said Schaefer, “and the programs by-and-large are well run. It’s not perfect and there’s always room for improvement. The program staff is top notch and doing a good job too.”

More transparency in the process could be a key to clearing up the controversy.

“When you have a structure like that, what you also need is transparency,” said Schaefer. “People need to see that there’s nothing irregular going on, and, in my opinion, that’s where NCBA has fallen down a little. They’ve been a little too secretive about how things are done.”

What’s next in the process?

“Our next steps are making sure our members across the country know what’s in the agreement,” said Dale Moore of the American Farm Bureau. “Then we’ll start laying out the next steps of the process, specifically as it relates to educating the public and what we’ll need to do on Capitol Hill to build support for it.”

Chandler Goule of the National Farmers Union said just because their organization didn’t sign the MOU, it doesn’t mean they’re not keeping an eye on the issue.

“We are still very much engaged,” said Goule. “We only withdrew because NCBA kept walking it in a circle. NFU spent thousands of dollars and staff resources to listen to NCBA reject every proposal we put forth. We put a total of 14 options on the table to make it a more fair and balanced program, and they rejected every one because it took NCBA out of the driver’s seat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farmers struggle to find immigrant labor supply

“Imagine going to bed at night and not knowing if you’re going to have enough people to help pick your crops.” That’s how Bernie Thiel, a farmer from Lubbock, Texas, describes the challenge farmers face in finding enough labor to run their operations.

Farmers in the south typically use a lot of immigrant labor, but it’s become harder to find the help they need. This is why agriculture across the country is watching the nation’s immigration debate, and wondering if workers will be available in the future.

Bernie Thiel, Jr.

Bernie Thiel, Jr., farms near Lubbock, TX, and is having a hard time finding enough labor to complete his harvests every year (photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

“Being in the business as long as I have, I’ve got people who’ve worked for me for 25 to 35 years,” said Thiel. “These are laborers who come from Mexico every year, and they’ve shown up for a long time. The problem is my labor force has gotten older and harder to come by now.”

Said Thiel; “There’s no new generation of laborers since the Reagan years, when we got amnesty in 1986. That’s where a lot of the hands I’m using now came from. I do get a few of my hired hands that have families and will come over and help.”

“As far as finding help locally, it’s virtually impossible,” said Thiel. “I do advertise on the radio. I had it on two Mexican-American stations all summer long, from the start of the season to the end. When the season ended up, I didn’t have one hand from those advertisements, and never kept a hand that did show up for more than two weeks.”

Other industries have begun to compete for immigrant labor, and it’s affecting farmers all over the country.

“In the last few years, we’ve had a demand for more laborers because of the oil industry,” said Bernie. “That has pulled some of my labor. Not a great deal of it, but my gosh, they start their workers at 18 to 20 dollars per hour.”

“Reading through some of the different periodicals, it’s not just me,” said Thiel. “This is happening nationwide. I read an article about a strawberry farmer in

Strawberry farming is an expensive proposition, and a California farmer spent 25,000 dollars an acre to plant a crop, and then plowed it under because of no labor available labor help (photo from mommasgottabake.com)

Strawberry farming is an expensive proposition, and a California farmer spent 25,000 dollars an acre to plant a crop, and then plowed it under because of no labor available labor help (photo from mommasgottabake.com)

California that plowed up 20 percent of his acreage. Keep in mind, it can cost up to 25,000 dollars an acre to grow strawberries.”

Thiel said he knows the sickening feeling that the farmer from California experienced.

“I’ve had to plow up squash for the last three years because I can’t find help,” said Bernie. “Of my normal plantings, I’ve had to plow up quite a bit because I couldn’t get it picked. This was marketable product that I already had a home for, but couldn’t get it harvested.”

Produce farmers aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch of a labor shortage. It’s hitting the dairy industry hard too.

John Rosenow is a dairy farmer from Cochran, Wisconsin, and he said the downturn for labor has gone on for several years.

“About 10 to 15 years ago, the local labor force dried up,” said Rosenow. As a result, the Wisconsin dairy industry became stagnant. People were afraid to grow their operation because they couldn’t find any help.”

John Rosenow is a dairy farmer in Wisconsin who’s having a hard time finding enough labor to help on the farm.  He’d like the nation’s immigration policy changed in order to assure a reliable supply of help for years to come (Photo from wisconsinwatch.com)

John Rosenow is a dairy farmer in Wisconsin who’s having a hard time finding enough labor to help on the farm. He’d like the nation’s immigration policy changed in order to assure a reliable supply of help for years to come (Photo from wisconsinwatch.com)

He said, “At that point, we discovered that Mexican immigrant labor was fantastic. They do an incredible job, work really hard, and they’re reliable. At that point, many operations began to hire Mexican labor, and the industry began to grow again.”

“Things improved, people started expanding, and the dairy industry improved in Wisconsin,” said Rosenow.

As the nation’s immigration debate continues, the labor force is once again shrinking in Wisconsin, and dairy farmers are feeling the pinch.

“Generally, everyone is short one or two people,” said Rosenow. “It’s because the inflow of Mexican labor from the south has dried up quite a bit.”

John said, “A large part of the downturn stems from border security. It’s a lot harder for people to cross the southern border. The fact that it’s gotten so much harder gives people less hope that they can come be part of this economy and industry.”

The need for reliable farm labor is growing again. “As far as people to milk the cows day in and day out, feed the calves, clean the barns, and other chores like that, I have not found anyone worth hiring, other than immigrant laborers, over the last 10 to 15 years.”

“If society wants to have an abundant supply of safe, wholesome food, produced here in the United States, which helps keep America secure, we have to have labor to do it,” said Rosenow. “That labor is going to have to come as immigrants.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota Grown Directory seeking new members

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is updating its popular, statewide, MDA-logoMinnesota Grown Directory filled with direct to consumer farms and farmers markets. Membership and Directory listing are open to Minnesota producers who grow or raise products. The 2014 edition promoted 978 farms and farmers markets. Minnesota Grown has more than 1,200 members including fruit and vegetable farms, livestock producers, farmers markets, CSA farms, orchards, garden centers, farm wineries, Christmas tree growers and more.

170,000 copies of the Minnesota Grown Directory are released annually in April and distributed statewide in tourist centers, libraries, chambers of commerce, farms, and retailers. Farms who advertise in the printed Directory are also included in the online edition, which was redesigned and had more than 290,000 unique visitors in 2014. The new, mobile friendly, website was improved to simplify searches for Minnesota products and farms.

 

“The demand for local foods has increased dramatically the last few years,” said Ag Marketing Specialist with the Minnesota Grown Program, Jessica Miles. “Our Directory is the most comprehensive and commonly used guide to local foods and plants available in Minnesota. It’s also becoming an excellent resource for family activity ideas and learning opportunities.”

 

While memberships are accepted year-round, farms must sign up or call Jessica Miles by February 6, 2015 to be included in the 2015 printed Directory.

“For $60 farmers can get an entire year’s worth of advertising both online and in print,” said Miles. “They’ll also have access to other great Minnesota Grown member-only benefits, such as use of the trademarked logo and FREE stickers, price cards and other promotional items. Just don’t delay and call right away because the deadline to be included in the printed Directory is February 6, 2015.”

 

Potential new members may sign up and pay online by clicking on the “Members & Retailers” tab at www.minnesotagrown.com, then clicking on “Become a Member” or contact Jessica Miles at 651-201-6170jessica.miles@state.mn.us to request an application by mail or with questions.

 

Consumers will feel the pinch of the immigration debate

“The debate over the nation’s immigration policy is one of the more political and complex debates there are right now,” said Kristi Boswell, Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau.

While the debate rages on, agriculture is paying close attention to the process of establishing a new policy. If the nation’s farmers can’t find a reliable supply of workers to harvest crops, it would put America’s food supply and overall security at serious risk.

Americans who don’t live on a farm or have any close connection with agriculture may not know that agriculture relies on a steady supply of immigrant workers.

Kristi Boswell

Kristi Boswell is the Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington D.C. (Photo from the Farm Bureau website)

“Currently, 70 percent of our immigrant work force is not authorized to work in the United States,” said Boswell. “We also have a flawed guest worker program (H2A) that is expensive and burdensome, and it only supplies 4 percent of our workforce because of that cost and complexity.”

“Our farmers crave stability, and this is only going to come through responsible legislative immigration reform that provides solutions,” said Boswell.

Chandler Goule

Chandler Goule is the Senior Director of Programs with the National Farmers Union in Washington D.C. (Photo from www.biofuellawconference.org)

“I would say agriculture is the silent partner that gets hurt the most in this debate,” said Chandler Goule, the Senior Vice President of Programs at the National Farmers Union. “For those who say we should send all immigrants home, I’d like to see what their grocery bills look like in a few months. Immigrant labor gets the crops out of the fields and into the grocery stores.”

“I would love to say Americans would come and do this work,” said Boswell. “I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t want their children to become a crop worker. The wages are very competitive, peaking around 20 dollar an hour during harvest, but it’s very hard work and seasonal in nature.”

The H2A program presents challenges to farmers because of the way it’s structured.

“A producer tells the government how many employees he needs, then those folks come in and you pay them a set wage for a certain amount of time,” said Jordan Dux, the National Affairs Director for the Nebraska Farm Bureau. “It’s too stringent in the way it’s regulated, because if you’re employees finish work early, then you as the farmer still have to pay them for that contracted period.”

Jordan Dux

Jordan Dux is the Director of National Affairs with the Nebraska Farm Bureau (Photo from www.nefb.org)

“There’s not a lot of flexibility there for farmers because of the way it’s regulated,” said Dux. “They’re trying to make it a one-size-fits-all program for all of agriculture, and it doesn’t work that way.”

Agriculture is a hard business to lump under one umbrella. “Agriculture is a unique business in the way that different products are produced,” said Dux. “If you can build in flexibility within any program, that’s going to be beneficial for anything, including tax policy, farm programs, and anything else, it always works better.”

The need for flexibility stems from the fact that immigrant labor touches many different types of agriculture. “The issue definitely touches hand-labor intensive ag the most,” said Kristi Boswell. “It really does hit all of agriculture, including specialty crops, strawberries, citrus. You have apples, lettuce, and really, the entire produce industry relies on immigrant labor.”

“On the livestock side, dairy is very labor intensive,” said Boswell. “You have feedlots and pork facilities that require a lot of labor. Custom harvesters also use a lot of H2A labor as well.”

A lack of immigrant labor is causing some serious problems in agriculture fields across the country.

“We have a Farm Bureau member in Texas that literally had to shred 10 acres of squash because he didn’t have the labor force to get it out of the fields,” said Boswell. “That’s heart wrenching.”

Chandler Goule said, “It’s true. We have a segment of society sitting on government programs in agricultural areas that are more than capable of going out there and working in the fields. They won’t do physical labor.”

“The immigrants from the south will come and do all of the labor,” said Goule. “It’s a conundrum. That’s why I think it’s important for agriculture to remain in the debate.

“Everybody is so worried about the amnesty part of the debate,” said Chandler. “If they don’t do this right, agriculture will be hit first, it will be hit the hardest, and then you’ll see the true impacts of it because it will hit the consumer.”

“You’re used to going to the store and finding everything you need,” said Goule. “When we can’t get it out of the field and it’s rotting, you’re either going to see more imported food, which could come from a country that doesn’t have the same safety standards for food and vegetables, or you won’t find the product, period.”

Check out more Midwest Farm news at www.MidwestProducer.com