Minnesota Farmers Union tours state to hear farmer concerns

Gary Wertish Minnesota Farmers Union

New Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish, a Renville County farmer, recently embarked on a listening tour around the state to hear the concerns of Minnesota Farmers. (Photo from twitter.com)

One of the first things on the to-do list of new Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish was a series of visits around the state with farmers from across Minnesota. The idea was to get a sense of the concerns facing the state’s farmers as they get set for another growing season in Minnesota.

Wertish said the list of concerns farmers talked about with Farmers Union officials was a lengthy one. Concerns ranged from buffers to health insurance to property taxes to broadband. He says there seems to be a lot on the minds of Minnesota farmers as the turnout at almost every stop was good.

“We had a very good turnout at 15 stops around the state,” Wertish said. “We tried to cover all corners of the state. The smallest attendance was still 30-35 people but we also had a couple meetings that were 60-65 people. In total, roughly 450 people attended, so it made for some good discussion.”

In addition to farmers, a broad section of people turned out for the meetings, ranging from county commissioners, human services employees, people from local food shelves, and even had a couple school administrators. In addition to the usual topics like buffers, health insurance, and property taxes, Wertish said broadband access was brought up at virtually every meeting.

 

Broadband access

 

He said one of the stops was a dairy farm in Goodrich, where the family had just put in a robotic milking system. The couple told people at the meeting they were lucky to have access to high-speed internet, without which they couldn’t have made the switch. A lot of farmers around the rest of the state aren’t as lucky.

“You still have some areas around the state that are using dial-up internet,” Wertish said. “We hear stories of farmers out on tractors using GPS technology that lose their signal when they go down in a ravine. We also heard stories about farmers having to go into the McDonald’s in town to use their Wi-Fi.”

A farmer from Roseau has a son that works in the Twin Cities. His son came for a visit and was trying to do some work online while at the farm. His son spent half a day on work that would normally take him an hour in the Cities because of better broadband access. The son wants to take over the farm but keep his job in the Cities but he can’t do it without better broadband access in rural areas.

 

Health insurance

 

At a meeting in Mankato, a 59-year old farmer stood up to talk about healthcare. He and his wife farmed about 1,500 acres, and they’d been farming all their life. He and his wife could take care of all the work themselves so there was no need for hired help. But, neither one of them could work a job off the farm to provide healthcare.

“He buys insurance through the individual marketplace and his premium bill is $29,000,” Wertish said. “On top that that, the premium comes with a $13,000 deductible. That’s $42,000 combined. Lucky for him, he and his wife have never met their deductible.”

As he worked on cash flows and operating loans in meeting with lenders, they’d tell the farmer to cut expenses. As he looks at the worksheets, the only thing he can cut that’s not returning a chance at a profit is healthcare.

“While not quite that dramatic, we heard similar stories from around the state,” said Wertish. “Farmers are looking at out of control premiums. But to really fix health care, we need to take the politics out of it and we haven’t been able to do that yet.”

One potential solution broached at the state level would be to let people buy into the Minnesota Care program. One reason it’s being discussed is there are over 1 million people enrolled, so the state can use its buying power to control costs somewhat. The additional benefit is more than one health care provider as well, so there is competition for business. Some Minnesota counties often have only one provider.

 

Buffers

 

The state requirement for farmers to have either 16-foot or 50-foot buffers between their farmland and bodies of water has been a contentious issue for months. Due in part to political pressure, the state recently came out with some alternative solutions to the buffer requirements.

“The initial reaction we (Minnesota Farmers Union) have is that it does look like it’ll help,” he said. “The biggest thing that came out of it is the state is giving some flexibility to local Soil and Water officials on how they do things. The state’s comment was ‘if the local Soil and Water officials can come up with a particular solution and defend it, they’ll acknowledge that local plan.’”

Wertish did say the new alternatives aren’t getting rid of the buffers 100 percent, there still may be some areas in the state where they get by with less than what the law requires, depending on the plan. He said it’s very encouraging that some of the control is being put back into local offices.

The biggest complaint farmers had didn’t involve the buffers themselves, but more the way it was handled. The decision came from the top down, so farmers felt left out of the discussions and here came more government regulations without having any farmer input.

 

Mowing ditches

 

Minnesota farmers have been mowing and bailing ditches for a long time. In addition to the obvious benefit of forage for livestock, there’s also the benefit of additional weed control close to their fields. There is a law on the books that says MN-DOT can require a permit to work in the ditches but enforcement has been lax up until recently.

“A few years ago,” Wertish said, “a certain state legislator expressed concerns during a meeting that ‘farmers were getting all this free hay’ when they mowed ditches. He felt farmers were taking advantage of the state by getting all this hay for free.”

Wertish says that’s where the discussion was first brought forward and why it’s going on today. There’s a law on the books that says MN-DOT should require permits to do that, but the Minnesota Farmers Union President said the legislator wanted to charge a fee for the bales.

“Since then, you have the pollinator issue that’s entered it,” he said. “I think all farmers realize we need our pollinators and we have to do what we can. So, it’s a combination of things that’s really brought it forward.”

Farmers are saving MN-DOT a lot of money by not having to mow in certain parts of the state. He says not every ditch in Minnesota is getting mowed. In some areas, it might be tough to get equipment into certain ditches. Wertish said one idea is to make it easier for pollinators to live in ditches like that. It’s important for MN-DOT to bring together all stakeholders and put a plan together.

 

Other topics

 

Transportation funding was a big topic of conversation. Minnesota has aging infrastructure that needs to be repaired and several people at the various meetings said it’s time to put more money into the state’s roads.

Farm bill development was another consistent topic of conversation. Wertish said most farmers told him they didn’t want any more checks from the government. They just wanted to make sure the farm safety net was solid in case of emergencies.

Here the new Minnesota Farmers Union president visiting Joe Gill, KASM radio in Albany, MN.

 

Pork Producers applaud White House on GIPSA action

GIPSA The Trump administration today gave notice that it will further delay the effective date of a GIPSA regulation related to the buying and selling of livestock, a move applauded by the National Pork Producers Council, which opposes the Obama-era rule. It also will take public comments on what to do with the regulation.

The so-called Farmer Fair Practices Rules, written by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), includes two proposed regulations and an interim final rule, the latter of which now is set to become effective Oct. 19.

“We’re extremely pleased that the Trump administration has extended the time it has to review this regulation and the public comments on it, which will show the devastating effects this rule would have on America’s pork producers,” said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill. “The regulation likely would restrict the buying and selling of livestock, lead to consolidation of the livestock industry – putting farmers out of business – and increase consumer prices for meat.”

GIPSA

National Pork Producers Council President Ken Maschoff says his group is happy with the White House decision to delay the effective date of  new GIPSA rules regarding the buying and selling of livestock. (photo courtesy of National Hog Farmer)

A notice in tomorrow’s Federal Register will indicate USDA is delaying the April 22 effective date for the interim final rule by 180 days and setting a 60-day comment period – from April 12 to June 10 – on whether to further delay or withdraw it. Just days into his presidency, President Trump extended for 60 days the public comment deadline on and Feb. 21 effective date of the Farmer Fair Practices Rules.

“The administration recognizes the importance of this issue to livestock farmers,” Maschhoff said, “and it’s following through with its pledge to look at regulations that would negatively affect people and the economy. Now we need to withdraw this bad regulation.”

NPPC is most concerned with the interim final rule, which would broaden the scope of the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) of 1921 related to using “unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive practices” and to giving “undue or unreasonable preferences or advantages.” Specifically, the regulation would deem such actions per se violations of federal law even if they didn’t harm competition or cause competitive injury, prerequisites for winning PSA cases.

USDA in 2010 proposed several PSA provisions – collectively known as the GIPSA Rule – that Congress mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill; eliminating the need to prove a competitive injury to win a PSA lawsuit was not one of them. In fact, Congress rejected such a “no competitive injury” provision during debate on the Farm Bill. Additionally, eight federal appeals courts have held that harm to competition must be an element of a PSA case.

“Eliminating the need to prove injury to competition would prompt an explosion in PSA lawsuits by turning every contract dispute into a federal case subject to triple damages,” Maschhoff said. “The inevitable costs associated with that and the legal uncertainty it would create could lead to further vertical integration of our industry and drive packers to own more of their own hogs.

“That would reduce competition, stifle innovation and provide no benefits to anyone other than trial lawyers and activist groups that will use the rule to attack the livestock industry. For those reasons, we’re asking the administration to withdraw the rule.”

An Informa Economics study found that the GIPSA Rule today would cost the U.S. pork industry more than $420 million annually – more than $4 per hog – with most of the costs related to PSA lawsuits brought under the “no competitive injury” provision included in the interim final rule.

# # #

NPPC is the global voice for the U.S. pork industry, protecting the livelihoods of America’s 60,000 pork producers, who abide by ethical principles in caring for their animals, in protecting the environment and public health and in providing safe, wholesome, nutritious pork products to consumers worldwide. For more information, visit www.nppc.org.

Agriculture News at the Minnesota Legislature

Minnesota Legislature In my years of living and working in Minnesota, I’ve watched the state legislature as part of my roles in broadcasting and journalism, and it’s safe to say the polarization along political lines is as big a challenge as it’s ever been. But it’s good to see that agriculture can actually play a part in bringing the Minnesota Legislature to the table to get things done.

I offer as proof a conversation I had last week with Thom Peterson, the Director of Government Relations with the Minnesota Farmers Union. If something is happening that could potentially affect the state’s agriculture industry, he’s one of the people that’ll know about it before the public. The legislature recently passed an ag appropriations bill and Peterson said it’s a good example of how people at the capitol can still work together.

Property tax Minnesota Legislature

Thom Peterson is Director of Government Relations for the Minnesota Farmers Union

“The Ag Appropriations Bill for the House of Representatives passed last week 134-0,” he said, “which I think is kind of neat because, in this day and age when a lot of people are on opposite ends of the spectrum, a lot of times ag groups and legislators are still able to work together.”

The Chair of the Agriculture Finance Committee in the Minnesota Legislature is Republican Rod Hamilton from southwest Minnesota and Jeanne Poppe, a Freeborn County Democrat, is the DFL lead on the Ag Finance Committee. Peterson said she worked with Representative Hamilton to pass a good bill that both parties could agree on.

One of the interesting things about the Appropriations Bill is funding for more hemp production in the state. Peterson said production has grown in the last couple of years in different parts of the state. The law allowing production first passed in 2015, with seven farmers growing 35 acres of hemp for the first time in 50 years.

This year, he said more than 40 farmers are going to plant 2,000 acres of hemp in Minnesota. Folks may hear hemp and automatically associate it with marijuana. This is not the same thing as growing an illegal drug in a farm field. Hemp is potentially a very valuable product for the state’s farmers.

“I always say you’d have to smoke 40 acres of it to have a chance to get high,” Peterson said. “It has no THC value (the chemical that induces the “high”). Canada has been growing and selling it to us for years with no problems.”

Other things looming for agriculture is the potential for some property tax relief for farmers and gricultural landowners. Here’s the conversation I had last week with Thom:

 

Farmers Union applauds ditch mowing legislation signature

The Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) today applauded the signature of Senate File 218 by Governor Mark Dayton that implements a moratorium on the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) in enforcing permit requirements for mowing and baling in right of way on trunk highways, except for land that adjoins state land, until April 30th, 2018.

MFU had raised concerns with the new permit system MNDOT had announced in December of 2016. Many farmers saw it as unnecessary, confusing and burdensome.

mowing ditches moratorium

Farmers mowing and baling ditches will continue as is for the next year, thanks to legislation signed by Governor Dayton placing a moratorium on a MN-DOT plan to require permits to mow rights-of-ways next to roads.

“Mowing roadsides has been an important source of forage for farmers, controls weeds, and it improves visibility on highways” said MFU President Gary Wertish. “The legislation will give all parties a chance to get together and address issues and MFU encourages farmers to pay attention to this issue over the interim.

“Make sure to be involved in making your voices heard on this issue” added Wertish.

Under the legislation, MNDOT will recommend to the legislative committees with jurisdiction over transportation, agriculture, and natural resources, that there be an establishment of a permit or notification system to mow or hay in a trunk highway right-of-way. The recommendation must be developed with input from agriculture and environmental groups. The recommendation must contain at least the following elements:

(1) ease of permit application or notification;

(2) frequency of permits or notifications;

(3) priority given to the owner or occupant of private land adjacent to a trunk highway right-of-way;

(4) determination of authority to mow or hay in trunk highway right-of-way in which adjacent land is under the jurisdiction of the state or a political subdivision; and

(5) recognition of the differences in the abundance of wildlife habitat based on geographic distribution throughout the state.

MFU thanks Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) and Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) for their work as chief authors of this legislation.

Minnesota Farmers Union—Standing for Agriculture, Fighting for Farmers (www.mfu.org).

What’s next regarding NAFTA?

American agriculture will have a hard time succeeding without a solid trading relationship with other countries. Now that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is off the table, new President Donald Trump and his administration are now turning their attention to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It’s the first time an administration took a serious look at renegotiating at least parts of the deal since it was signed during the Clinton administration.

NAFTA, Free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico

The Trump Administration still has a goal of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico in an attempt to make it more favorable for America. (photo from CNN Money)

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture recently held their winter policy conference in Washington, D.C., and trade was one of the biggest topics of conversation. Nathan Bowen is the Director of Public Policy at NASDA. He says that NAFTA has been a very good thing for agriculture for a long time.

“U.S. agriculture depends on export opportunities for our livelihood,” Bowen said. “With the new administration, there’s a lot of talk about what’s going to happen on the international trade front.”

Bowen says NAFTA has been very important for U.S. farmers and ranchers, who depend on the markets in Canada and Mexico for significant parts of their livelihood. NASDA wants to make sure as the administration looks at redoing NAFTA, agriculture has a place at the table.

“We are working to make sure that agriculture keeps the gains they’ve made under NAFTA,” Bowen said, “and that we do take opportunities that are there to strengthen the agreement. Farmers send a whole range of commodities to markets in both Canada and Mexico.”

He says NAFTA has been good for a whole list of Ag sectors, including beef. U.S. beef exports to Mexico and Canada have almost tripled since the beginning of the agreement. It was a little over $600 million dollars back in 1994, rising to $1.9 billion as recently as 2015.

“The access that U.S. beef has enjoyed in both of those markets has really been important for the industry,” Bowen adds. “The same could be said for corn, with significant gains in that sector, and pork is another really good success story.”

Bowen adds that there really isn’t a timeline for negotiations between the three countries to begin but he’s hopeful it will start as soon as possible so that agriculture will know where it stands with market access to Canada and Mexico.

Here’s the complete conversation with Bowen:

MN Farmers Union applauds passage of Rural Finance Authority Legislation

Rural Finance Authority

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is shown here signing legislation to fund the Rural Finance Authority, a vital tool to helping farmers get access to the credit they need every year to produce their commodities. (photo contributed by MFU)

Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) applauds the signing today by Governor Mark Dayton of legislation to fund the Rural Finance Authority (RFA). The RFA is a vital tool that helps farmers secure funding for various types of loans, including restructured loans, beginning farmers, and farm improvement loans.

MFU appreciates the efforts of the chief authors Rep. Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg) and Sen. Andrew Lang (R-Olivia) as well as many legislators from both sides of the aisle. MFU is pleased that so many state legislators recognized the need to expedite funding for the RFA, which has lacked funding since December 31st, 2016. That has left the RFA unable to process loans.

Rural Finance Authority

Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish talks about the reauthorization of funding for the Rural Finance Authority, signed into law by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. (contributed photo from MFU)

MFU President Gary Wertish, also a member of the RFA Board, says “This legislation comes at an important time when farmers are making decisions for the 2017 planting season. This legislation gives farmers a good option to access credit.”

The RFA partners with local banks in lending on the programs they have.
MFU encourages farmers to take another look at the RFA (which is run by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture) and its menu of loans now that the bill has passed. The information can be found at: http://www.mda.state.mn.us/agfinance or by calling 651-201-6556.

Minnesota Farmers Union—Standing for Agriculture, Fighting for Farmers (www.mfu.org).

Grain bin rescue tubes can save lives

Grain bin accidents are an unfortunate part of living in rural agricultural areas. They can happen on a farm site or at a local elevator in the blink of an eye, taking parents and grandparents away from their families in one of the most painful ways possible.

Several Rushford area fire departments recently received something called grain bin rescue tubes. It’s a relatively new addition to the arsenal of rescue equipment that volunteer firemen and women have at their disposal. The Rushford volunteer fire department recently conducted grain rescue training with a little help from the Farmers Co-op Elevator.

Grain Bin Rescue tube

Firefighters practice placing a rescue tube during grain bin rescue training at the Danville Bunge facility on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. photo by Don McMasters/for The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

“If someone were to get trapped in a bin of corn, soybeans, or any kind of grains, we can take what’s called a grain bin rescue tube and put it around the person who’s stuck to help get them out of there,” said Rushford Volunteer Fire Chief Paul Corcoran. “Once the tube is put together (it comes in four pieces) around the person and remove the grain from inside it.”

He said the tube keeps the grain from collapsing any further around the person. Once they get quite a bit of the grain removed from around the trapped person, they can simply lift them out of the bin.

“The grain rescue equipment is actually a round tube that comes in several pieces,” Corcoran said, “and it’s made of steel. The pieces get attached around the victim inside the bin and then you can remove as much grain as needed to be able to lift the person out.”

grain bin rescue tubes

Fire and rescue crews across the country are practicing with grain bin rescue tubes, designed to save people from suffocating if they become trapped in grain. (photo from deltafarmpress.com

The rescue tubes come with a series of handles on the outside. Once the pieces are together, rescuers can use those handles to push the tube further down into the grain. Once the tube is around the stuck person, it keeps the grain from collapsing down on them and pushing them any deeper.

The Rushford Farmers’ Co-op Elevator helped to provide the grain bin rescue tubes for local fire departments. They were hosts to a recent practice session for the Rushford VFD.  Co-op Manager Gordy Johnson said it’s a very important step to keeping elevator employees and local farmers as safe as possible.

“We all work in many dangerous places ourselves here,” said Johnson. “There’s a lot of grain bins out here. When we get involved with safety, whether it’s our employees or our patrons, we need to do our best for the people who may save one of our patrons or one of our employees. They need to have the right equipment so it’s important that we make sure that gets done.”

During the practice session, the elevator put grain into the back of a large truck with a person in the grain (and in no danger). Corcoran said they had it in the back of a grain truck because it was a little bit handier.

“We have used it at Riverland as a scenario setup with a grain bin that had pellets in it,” he said, “and we’ve used similar things to practice on.”

It’s still a fairly new piece of equipment for the Rushford Fire Department. They practice once a year just in case the Elevator would have a potential issue. Thankfully, Corcoran said the Rushford Fire Department hasn’t had to use it in a real-life rescue situation. However, he’s very happy to have it just in case.

Here’s an actual demonstration of how the tubes work, courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension and Oklahoma State University.

 

 

Cattle feedlot labor pains getting worse

Labor pains are a good way to describe the work situation in production agriculture, but it’s not a shortage of jobs that are the problem. More and more sectors in production agriculture are having a hard time finding help and the problem runs from coast to coast. Reports abound of crops left rotting in the fields because of a shortage of available labor to get out and harvest. The labor shortages aren’t just limited to crops, either. Feedlots across the country are having a hard time finding people to work with their livestock. The labor pains have gotten progressively worse in feedlots during the past decade.

“It is a problem,” said Gary Ruskamp of Ruskamp Feed Yards in Dodge, Nebraska. “I finally just got my crew filled in again. They kind of come and go after a couple of years and then you must find new people. I’ve got all good guys now, but it’s tough.”

Labor pains cattle feedlots

Labor pains are growing in the cattle feedlot industry as qualified help is getting harder and harder to find. (photo from silverspurranches.com)

Ruskamp has a stack of applicants every time he has an open position. But the problem is almost none of the applicants are qualified to do the job. The labor shortage is real in feedlot country and there are some good reasons behind it.

“I have a son that’s a partner with me in the feed yard,” Ruskamp said, “but a lot of families have kids that don’t stay on the farm. Plus, there’s less number of kids born on the farm. If you hire someone that didn’t grow up on a farm, you have to train them. They often don’t have the ability to work with livestock and the equipment we work with.”

He added, “There’s nobody that grows up on a farm anymore. It’s changed. Fewer farms. Fewer children on farms. They go to the city to work. The kids don’t come back out here and work in feedlots. There are a few family feed yards where the son might come back and work with them, but not a lot of that is going on.”

Ruskamp tries to hire local folks for open positions but occasionally has had to cast his net far and wide for employees. However, there’s a challenge when hiring people who aren’t from the area.

“I try to stay local,” he said, “because when you hire someone from further off, they usually want to get back home at some point. They don’t usually stay as long as somebody local.”

The labor shortage is worse in some counties than others. In the northern part of Cuming county, there’s a lot more feedlots that are closer together. He said workers can skip from feedlot to feedlot, working at one for two or three years.

“If they get 50 cents an hour more,” Ruskamp said, “they’ll skip to another feed yard. Eventually, they’ll come back to the first feedlot they were at.”

The struggle for labor isn’t hitting every feedlot in the plains. Ron Coufal runs a feedlot 14 miles west of West Point, Nebraska. He has a lot of family working in the business with him so the labor situation is in good shape there. However, that’s the exception rather than the rule in most feedlots.

“Our operation consists of all family members,” Coufal said. “My sons, my brothers, and a couple nephews all work here. All told, there are nine families that make a living out of this operation. We farm quite a bit of ground and we also feed quite a few cattle.”

Coufal said it’s always a problem hiring people, specifically the right ones for the job. It can be hard to pay people what they’re worth in agriculture these days with low cattle prices. That makes it tough for would-be employers because Coufal said you need to be able to pay people in order to hire the right people for the job.

“The right kind of people are typically in business for themselves or working for corporations somewhere else,” he said. “You can always hire a body but it can be hard to find one with the brain that allows them to do the job.

“If you want to work in the livestock industry,” Coufal said, “you have to be there every day. If 8:00 in the morning is when we feed cattle, I want them fed right at 8:00 in the morning. If it’s 10:00 in the morning, then I want them fed at ten. I want them on a schedule.”

Coufal said they did hire outside help before his sons came back from college. It took a lot of work to find good people. He enjoyed the staff he worked with before it became a family operation again, but did note that good help is getting harder to find.

If you know someone that’s possibly interested in working on a livestock operation, this is what it entails. There are opportunities there for people willing to work hard and learn the trade:

 

 

Farm Bureau President Duvall Talks Ag Issues

The 98th American Farm Bureau annual convention is going on this week in Phoenix, Arizona. Once a year, Farm Bureau members come together in one location to learn and talk about the future of agriculture. Farm Bureau voting delegates will also debate policy and put together the Farm Bureau policy platform on important Ag issues for the coming year.

Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall talks Ag issues

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall addresses reporters during a press conference at the 98th Farm Bureau annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona. (photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

Farm Bureau President and Georgia farmer Zippy Duvall spoke to reporters on Sunday during a press conference in Phoenix, tackling several issues important to agriculture. One of the first questions dealt with the lengthy search for the next Secretary of Agriculture. Duvall wanted the candidate selected a little quicker, although he seems encouraged by the fact that the Trump team has interviewed a good number of excellent candidates. What happens if the President-elect would happen to pick someone who doesn’t have an extensive Ag background?

“At this point, I’m not worried,” Duvall said, “I have full faith in the new president picking the right person. He’s looked at many different people, a lot more than we expected him to look at. We just think he’s doing a thorough review.”

 

 

As far as the reason it’s taken so long? Duvall said he honestly isn’t sure and anything he would add is speculation. “I’m honestly not sure whether he’s had people who just weren’t interested,” Duvall said, “or whether he’s had so many good candidates he can’t really pick which one he wants.”

 

 

 

One of Trump’s main talking points in the campaign was building a wall along the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico to help control illegal immigration. A good number of those same immigrants are vital to agriculture getting its work done every year. Immigration will be one of the biggest ag issues the Farm Bureau will keep an eye on in 2017. Duvall is hoping some kind of compromise on immigration can be reached so agriculture isn’t short on labor, especially at harvest time.

 

“If you look at the increase in H2A applications over the last few years,” Duvall said, “we’ve had a tremendous increase in that area. The demand for workers is there and we also know that the American people aren’t going to do that work, otherwise, they already would have started.”

 

 

 

He adds, “We want to give them an opportunity to stay here and work. It comes down to a moral and a safety issue. Their families are here and we have to do the right thing.”

 

 

 

Trade will be another of the biggest ag issues to keep an eye on this year. One of the biggest concerns agriculture has with the incoming president is his stance against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and trade agreements in general. Duvall says after talking with the Trump team, the President-elect has a better understanding of how important trade is to agriculture.

 

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to sit down with the Trump team and talk about the workings of a trade treaty that is friendly to agriculture,” Duvall said. “My discussions with the Trump team before the election went like this: ‘we’re concerned about Mr. Trump’s opinion on trade.’ That’s what we told them. He seems to be negative on trade  and agriculture is very dependent on it for up to 30% of our income.”

 

 

 

“This won’t be the first time a new president appeared to put us (Ag) at risk,” Duvall added. “Yes, we are nervous about that (trade wars). We do want America to stand up and have a backbone, but you have to be really careful about how you do that because you could destroy our industry if you don’t do it right.”

 

He added, “We’re there at the table trying to have those conversations.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SE Minnesota harvest results strong despite challenges

Crop harvest results

Michael Cruse is the University of Minnesota Extension Educator in Houston and Fillmore County of southeast Minnesota, who said crop harvest results were very good in spite of big challenges. (photo from umn.edu)

People who work in agriculture are resilient by nature. They have to be. They risk so much personally in the midst of circumstances that are completely out of their immediate control. For example, you can’t control the weather. Next time a tornado is threatening to wipe our your livelihood, try to turn it off. Let me know how that works out.

Folks off-the-farm have no idea just how much money a farmer has to borrow every year just for the sake of running his or her operation. The amount of money would shock most people. The crop isn’t even in the ground at the point.

Swarms of pests, either above or below ground, can wipe out a whole season’s worth of work. Violent windstorms were very hard on the wheat stands in southeast Minnesota this year. Early season frost forced some farmers to replant their crops earlier this spring. Rain just kept coming, usually at the worst times. Farmers typically wait for the forecast to show several dry days before they knock down alfalfa. However, the rainfall didn’t always follow the predictions accurately. Alfalfa got rained on, sometimes a whole lot.

However, southeast Minnesota farmers pulled in a very good crop again this season after all was said and done. While results are never 100 percent across the board, corn, soybeans, and alfalfa yields were excellent.

I spoke with Michael Cruse, the University of Minnesota Extension Service Educator in Houston and Fillmore counties, about harvest in the area. While the final numbers are not in yet, all indications are that things went extremely well. Give a listen here on chadsmithmedia.com: