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.

 

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).

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).

Wertish elected MN Farmers Union President

Gary Wertish, MN Farmers Union PresidentCongratulations to Renville County, Minnesota farmers Gary Wertish, just elected as the new President of the Minnesota Farmers Union. A well-deserved honor. I spent several years as Farm Director at KLGR radio in Redwood Falls and saw on a first-hand basis that Gary tirelessly worked for farmers. He’ll do a fantastic job as the new President, taking over for the retired Doug Peterson.

Gary Wertish, MN Farmers Union President

Gary Wertish was elected as the new Minnesota Farmers Union President during a special election on Saturday, January 21. He replaces the recently retired Doug Peterson as the head of the organization. (photo from myklgr.com)

Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) held a special election on Saturday, January 21, 2017 to elect a new President.

Former MFU Vice President, Gary Wertish was elected by Minnesota Farmers Union board members on Saturday to be the 10th President of Minnesota Farmers Union.

Gary has served as the Vice President of Minnesota Farmers Union since 2009, and has filled in as interim President since Peterson’s retirement.
Prior to being elected as Vice President, Gary had worked as a field representative for Farmers Union. Gary has also worked for then-Senator Mark Dayton as his Agricultural Director. He farms with one of his sons, raising corn, soybeans, and navy beans.

“Today marks a new era within the Farmers Union organization. Being elected as the new President is humbling” remarked Gary Wertish “I look forward to continue working with entire Farmers Union membership, along with other agricultural groups to enhance the economic interests of a struggling rural economy, which is just as important now as it ever has been. We will work to keep our momentum flowing and to bring new ideas to the table that will help us reach new goals within the organization, and to continue fighting and representing family farmers.”
Gary is married to his wife, Jeanne; together they have four children and live in Renville, MN.

Wertish named interim president of MN Farmers Union

Interim president

Minnesota Farmers Union Vice President Gary Wertish was named in the interim President of the organization until a special election on January 21 to fill the last two years of retiring president Doug Peterson’s current term

Effective Monday January 2nd, 2017, Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) will be led on an interim basis by Gary Wertish, who previously served as the organization’s Vice- President. Wertish, a Renville County farmer, replaces Doug Peterson who retired December 31st and served as MFU President for the past 14 years. Wertish has long been active in public farm policy and MFU, having served as the organizations Vice-President for the past 5 years.

 
“MFU is focused right now on the beginning of the Minnesota Legislative session and working with the new administration in Washington D.C., as well as our members of Congress” said Wertish, the newly named interim president. “I look forward to working with lawmakers to address health care, taxes and other issues to help our farmers, who face a challenging farm economy.”

 
Wertish will serve as interim president until a special election will be held Saturday January 21st, 2017 at the Minnesota Farmers Union office, where MFU County Presidents from around the state will vote on filling the remaining year on Peterson’s two year term. Wertish has filed for the Presidential election, as have Harmon Wilts, long time member and secretary of Swift County, former Senator Lyle Koenen of Chippewa County, and former Senator Vicki Jensen of Steele County.

Farmers Union state convention wraps up

Farmers Union State Convention in Minneapolis

Attendees of the Minnesota Farmers Union State Convention socialize during the Saturday night banquet at the 75th annual convention in Minneapolis. (photo from https://www.facebook.com/mnfarmersunion)

The Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) held its 75th annual state convention on Saturday November 19 and Sunday November 20, 2016.  The grassroots organization took to the floor several key issues that are important to the family farmers of Minnesota.  The realigned policy will set forth a strong agenda for the organization in the upcoming legislative year.

President Doug Peterson expressed gratitude and honor for being able to serve as the state president of the organization for 14 years. “I have spent the majority of my live fighting for the family farmer and the last 14 years being the voice for the members of the Minnesota Farmers Union, the fight will never end for me, I will always be a farmer and I will continue to be a part of Farmers Union. The support and respect the members of this organization have for the life on the farm and for each other is something I can’t imagine being away from.”

farmers union state convention

Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson and wife Elly enjoying the activities at the 75th annual state convention. Doug recently announced he’ll be stepping down at the end of the year after 14 years in the top chair. (photo from Facebook.com/mnfarmersunion)

“Minnesota Farmers Union is a grassroots organization that truly listens to the members and they create the policy that we work by.” said Doug Peterson, Minnesota Farmers Union President. “Every voice has the chance to be heard every day within our organization, and our annual convention offers the perfect platform for these discussions.”

The MFU delegates debated special orders of business addressing the concerns with the upcoming Farm Bill, Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and Health Care. Delegates went through the Minnesota Farmers Union policy and set the groundwork for the legislative lobbying on behalf of family farmers that will take place in 2017 by Minnesota Farmers Union.

During the convention, speakers included: Senator Amy Klobuchar; Senator Al Franken; Dave Frederickson, Department of Agriculture Commissioner; Lt Governor Tina Smith; Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union President; Representative Collin Peterson; Tim Rudnicki with MN BioFuels; and Jim Ennis with Catholic Rural Life.

Several awards were given out at the banquet Saturday night including: Markell Vogt, Dedicated Service Award; Dustin Hoffmann, Ag Communicator of the year award; Gene Paul, Lifetime Achievement Award; and Doug Peterson, Dedicated Service to Agriculture Award.

During our annual Farmers Union Foundation Live Auction, we were able to collect over $5600 for the FFA Blue Jackets Program.  Thank you to the 43 members who donated to this program, it is a great way to help support young people who will are exposed to and are encouraged to become involved in agriculture.  Minnesota Farmers Union annually supports this program by purchasing 30 blue jackets. In 2016 MFU increased their donation to 40.  With the collection on Saturday evening another 76 blue jackets will be purchased!

Delegates were chosen to represent Minnesota Farmers Union at the National Farmers Union convention which will be held March 5-8, 2017 in San Diego, CA.

Farmers Union Convention pictures 

Wondering what Farmers Union is all about? Check out the 2015 Year in Review video:

75th Minnesota Farmers Union Convention in November

Minnesota Farmers Union

The Minnesota Farmers Union will have its annual convention on November November 19th and 20th at the Ramada Plaza in Minneapolis.

Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) will be holding their 75th  annual state convention Saturday, November 19 and Sunday, November 20 at the Ramada Plaza in Minneapolis. The business of the convention is to debate and pass MFU policy and elect delegates to represent Minnesota Farmers Union at the National Farmers Union convention that will be held in San Diego, CA March 5-8, 2017.

Prior to the convention a retirement reception will be hosted by Minnesota Farmers Union Insurance Agency with guest speakers to highlight the career of MFU President Doug Peterson and to give thanks to all the hard work and dedication that he has done throughout his time with Farmers Union.

The Saturday evening banquet will highlight the past 75 years of Farmers Union and the strides that the organization has taken to protect and fight for family farmers and rural communities.

“Minnesota Farmers Union convention is member-driven policy discussion that will help guide us during our meetings with legislators at the State and Federal levels throughout the next year. Our grass-roots policy is strongly built during the discussions and debates that happen over these two days.” said Doug Peterson, Minnesota Farmers Union President. “Each of our member delegation has an opportunity to have their voice heard and to influence our policy discussion as we work for common sense and sound ag policies that are good for family farmers and rural communities.”

Speakers throughout the convention include: Alison O’Toole, CEO of MN Sure; Lance Boyer, Financial Products Manager and Kevin Reisler, Sales and Marketing Manager for Farmers Union Insurance; Dave Frederickson, Commission of Agriculture; Tim Rudnicki Executive Director for MN Bio Fuels Association; Jim Ennis Executive Director of Catholic Rural Life.  Multiple breakout sessions will be held Sunday morning, including a Dairy Issues meeting, Energy Issues Forum and a Whole Farm Revenue Insurance presentation.

You can find the full agenda at www.mfu.org. The Minnesota Farmers Union Convention will be held at the Ramada Plaza, 1330 Industrial Boulevard, Minneapolis.  Contact Amanda Valencia, MFU Communications Director, with any questions, 651.288.4068.

Minnesota Farmers Union, standing for agriculture, fighting for farmers (www.mfu.org).

MFU’s Peterson Named 2016 Friend of Extension

Doug Peterson’s life has revolved around agriculture for as long as he can remember. The soon-to-retire Minnesota Farmers Union President has been a strong advocate Minnesota agriculture for decades. Peterson received another honor from a major agriculture group in the state, winning the 2016 Distinguished Friend of Extension award winner on Tuesday, October 4.

The  award was announced on Tuesday by Dean Bev Durgan, who said that Peterson’s advocacy “has strengthened the University of Minnesota’s ability to create a strong Minnesota agriculture.”

Distinguished Friend of Extension

Retiring Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson was named a Distinguished Friend of Extension by the University of Minnesota Extension Service this week. (

President Peterson was lauded for his support of 4-H, including visionary contributions to the Minnesota’s pioneering 4-H Science of Agriculture program and the 4-H Purple Ribbon Auction at the State Fair.

Peterson and the Minnesota Farmers Union have played an important role helping secure legislative funding for Extension to create positive impacts across Minnesota. One of the biggest impacts is the Farmer-Lender Mediation program that helps farmers facing financial challenges.

Distinguished Friend of Extension

Bev Durgan, Dean of the University of Minnesota Extension Service, presented the Distinguished Friend of Extension Award to Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson earlier this week. (Photo from extension.umn.edu)

“I’m proud to accept this award on behalf of the Minnesota Farmers Union members and in support of the hard work that the University of Minnesota and Extension does to advance family farming,” Peterson said.

Doug was always someone I looked forward to visiting with during my time as Farm Director at KLGR in Redwood Falls. He was very patient with the new guy covering agriculture and I learned an awful lot from visiting with him. Agriculture had a friend in Doug and I bet we haven’t heard the last of him on the state level. Best of luck in your retirement, Doug!

 

 

 

 

Want to see some of the things the Minnesota Farmers Union has been up to over the last year?

 

 

 

Minnesota Farmers Union, standing for agriculture and fighting for farmers (www.mfu.org)

MFU thanks delegation for addressing dairy concerns

Minnesota-Farmers-Union-Logo-ApprovedMinnesota Farmers Union (MFU) would like to thank Senators Franken and Klobuchar as well as Representatives Peterson, Nolan, and Walz  for joining 60 of their colleagues in signing on to a bi-partisan Congressional letter to USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.  The letter expressed concern about the troubling economic challenges facing U.S. dairy farmers and urged him to assist them as quickly as possible.

The letter, spearheaded by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and Connecticut Representative Joe Courtney, cited that farm milk prices dropping 40 percent since 2014.  Compounding the problem of low prices, the nation’s cheese stocks were recorded at their highest level since the data was first recorded in 1917. The letter also says that current expectations are that the dairy market will continue to struggle

“MFU has been in constant contact with our Congressional delegation working on assistance for Minnesota dairy farmers, and MFU appreciates the effort of these members of Congress,” said MFU President Doug Peterson.

dairy industry struggles

The Minnesota Farmers Union thanked its congressional delegation for signing onto a letter urging the USDA to take action to help the nation’s struggling dairy farmers. (Jackson Forderer for MPR News)

The members of Congress in the letter urge the USDA to use its secretarial authority and look to past precedent for ways to take action to protect all of our nation’s dairy farmers from any further crisis.  The letter also urges the USDA to aid in the expansion and maintenance of domestic markets. The letter further urges the USDA to take all actions available in order to make an immediate market injection and offer financial assistance that will support dairy farmers.  They also caution USDA to not stimulate overproduction further than it’s already gone.

MFU will continue to work on dairy policy as we begin our annual county conventions throughout the state, making help for dairy farmers a top priority.

 

Minnesota Farmers Union, standing for agriculture, fighting for farmers (www.mfu.org).