2015 was a mixed bag in agriculture, and that might be a bit of an understatement.
On the one hand, production levels were good in many commodities, including a record crop for soybeans and the third largest corn crop on record. On the other hand, the prices for those commodities were not good at all. Those conflicting numbers have brought some tension back into family farming that hasn’t been seen in several years.
Doug Peterson, Minnesota Farmers Union President, said agriculture was a mixed bag in 2015, and challenges are ahead in the new year. (Photo from www.myklgr.com)
“Family farming, as a whole, had a pretty good year in 2015 as far as yield,” said Doug Peterson, the Minnesota Farmers Union President. “Prices went to hell in a hand basket, and that puts a lot of edginess back into farming.
“Prices were good for a number of years, but now when inputs haven’t gone down and prices have, that brings challenges in the balance sheets,” said Peterson. “As a result, there may some changes in loaning procedures by local banks because they’re scared.”
Peterson feels the future of agriculture is still good, and the Farmers Union spent some time traveling around the world for a firsthand look.
“We participated in the World Farmer Organization (WFO) General Assembly in Milan, Italy,” Peterson said. “We also took part in a Food, Faith, and Farming symposium as well. We talked about family farming, the environment, and how to sustain the family farm in policy decisions.”
The overseas tour also included a face-to-face with Pope Francis.
Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson meets with Pope Francis Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Peterson and other U.S. farm leaders discussed family farmers with the Catholic church leader. (Minnesota Farmers Union photo)
“We met with Pope Francis and his Secretary of State to talk about his encyclical and making sure that family farmers were part of the focus of the Pope’s message on stewardship in agriculture,” Peterson said. “We also had a chance to speak with leadership of the Vatican about family farms.
“We talked with the leadership about the importance of stewardship and family farms,” Peterson said. “We were told that Pope Francis himself feels all religions in the world should pay attention to the stewardship and the sustainability of family farms. Family farms, and not corporations, are the ones that have the ability to feed the world.”
Vatican leadership, as well as Pope Francis, appears to be very concerned about corporate farming.
“They are very concerned, as we are in Farmers Union, about the corporate takeover of family farms around the world,” said Peterson, “and I’ve done enough traveling to see the dirty hand of multi-national corporations coming in and usurping the family farmers for profit.”
He said Mexico is a good example of the dangers of corporate farming.
“Corporations are farming land in other countries (like Mexico),” Peterson said, “and then exporting it back to their home countries.
“That brings us back to Minnesota, where we have an anti-corporate farming law,” said Peterson, “and we don’t allow foreign countries to own farmland in the state either. There are a lot of other states around us that have lost that law, and the ability to control that in their legislative process.”
The Minnesota Farmers Union and it’s President, Doug Peterson, are very concerned about corporate farming squeezing smaller family farms off their land and out of business. (photo from truthdig.com)
He said North Dakota is facing a battle over corporate ownership of dairy and pork farms.
“Concentration in farming is going to be one of the top issues in the next 10 to 15 years,” Peterson said. “We need to make sure farmland stays in the ownership of family farmers.”
Vigilance will be the key because anti-corporate farming laws are always under attack, and will be again in 2016.
“Back when I was in the legislature (1991-2002),” Peterson said, “there were moves to get rid of the corporate farming law, and to allow foreign ownership of land.
“In fact, about five years ago, we had an attempt by Goldman Sachs to come to the legislature and asked to have an exemption carved out for them,” said Peterson. “We defeated that. So we’re on top of it in Minnesota. But I don’t care who you are, there’s always going to be a threat.”
He added, “It’s always going to be about other people wanting to own land. It’s no different than outside investors, nature conservancies, or outside investors wanting to come in and own land. You get it from all sides.”
The challenges of transferring land ownership can exacerbate the problem.
“Farmers have to figure out what they’re going to do to transfer their land to others,” Peterson said, “and it’s a very slow and costly process to keep family farmers on the land.”