MORGAN, Minn. – It was an emotional day at Farmfest 2019 as farmers and industry professionals were given the opportunity to address U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and members of the U.S. House Ag Committee. For an hour and a half, people came forward to voice concerns, ask questions, raise issues and even offer gratitude.
Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson moderated the event with Secretary Perdue. The attending congressmen included four of Minnesota’s representatives, Angie Craig, Dean Phillips, Jim Hagedorn, and Pete Stauber. Also attending was Florida Congressmen Ted Yoho.
This is the second listening session Farmfest has organized with the U.S. House Ag Committee, with the first being two years ago, discussing the new Farm Bill.
This year, Perdue and congressmembers were given the opportunity to respond to questions and statements brought forward by audience members. Topics ranged from discussing the trade war, dairy protection programs, water quality issues and immigration. Just about any topic related to agriculture was brought forward and addressed by farmers and the committee.
Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau was the first to speak.
“We have ag committees that work very well together in bipartisan in both the House and the Senate. We have a Minnesota delegation that works very well together,” said Paap. “Can we ask you as members on the Ag committee and Minnesota delegation, can we ask for your help and commitment to work together on some of the other parts of Congress, other issues outside of the Ag Committee?”
The response from the congressmembers was very supportive of bipartisan efforts.
Peterson explained how he worked with the administration during the renegotiation of NAFTA, as well as the creation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to maintain the parts of NAFTA that worked well together.
Craig highlighted her history of supporting bipartisan bills and Phillips commented on his commitment to the House’s Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan effort to bring both sides together.
Perhaps the only partisan comment of the entire event came from Jim Hagedorn, commenting that perhaps House Speaker Pelosi would prefer that President Trump not get victories in some areas.
Hagedorn followed that comment with, “but I think there are five or six places we can all agree that we should work on, one is the USMCA.”
The USMCA and trade with China was a reoccurring topic.
“I think like most people, we agreed with the President that we need to look at all agreements, trade agreements, maybe we could do things better, no disagreement there,” said one farmer present. “But we disagree with how the President approached it, going at it alone, specifically with China.”
Many agreed with this statement, wishing the President first built up relationships with trade allies and took on China’s world trade offenses together.
While farmers are grateful for the Market Facilitation Payments (MFP) to help see them through this time as they take the brunt of the trade war fallout, they would much rather have trade and markets to sell their grain into.
One particularly emotional moment was when a farmer for southwest Minnesota brought up the hardships dairy farmers are facing right now.
“The dairy industry is really hurting this year. Wisconsin saw it last year in record numbers selling out and Minnesota is going to see it this year. We already are,” said Tiffany Knot of Wabasso. “I've seen five farms sellout since January and two of them were 400-500 cows each.”
The exchange that followed between Knot and Peterson regarding the new dairy protection programs and insurance programs laid out in the last Farm Bill highlighted the distrust dairy producers still have in the programs.
Early in the event, Peterson commented on the lack of participation from dairy farmers in the program and encouraged them to look into it. During this exchange he made clear that these programs are not set up as a handout from the government to dairy farms, but just a way for them to subsidize income and get through low market times.
“This is about if you're going to be able to guarantee a gross income for your operation,” said Peterson. “We hope the government doesn't spend any money because then that means the market is working.”
At the closing of the event, Secretary Perdue encouraged anyone who wasn’t heard that day to go to USDA.gov/tellsonny and voice their comments and questions there.
“I want to hear from you. We may not be able to solve everything, but we will respond,” he said. “If you want to make a point or talk about anything, got to USDA.gov/tellsonny.”