Crop insurance, trade, dairy marketing and beginning farmers were key issues raised by those who attended a U.S. House Agriculture Committee farm bill listening session July 25 in Northfield, Minn.
The event, the first in the Midwest and fourth in a series of sessions, was chaired by Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos and hosted by Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig at Far-Gaze Farms, owned by Brian, Bruce and Chris Peterson.
Farmers who spoke in support of the crop insurance program in the 2023 Farm Bill pointed out that it does more than help them recover from losses. It also helps them secure loans, improve marketing and make needed investments in the farm.
Bruce Peterson opened as the first of 30-plus commenters in attendance. He shared how crop insurance helps with forward marketing, offers prevented planting coverage, provides insurance discounts to beginning farmers and helps new farmers secure operating loans.
“Prevent plant coverage is an important component,” Peterson noted. Farmers only use it when they need to, like this year when some farmers couldn’t get crops planted in the spring.
Richard Syverson, Clontarf, said that crop insurance is the No. 1 farm bill priority of Minnesota corn growers. The stakes keep getting higher in farming because input costs are rising, he said, adding that crop insurance helped him secure an operating loan to plant his 41st crop this spring.
Also, several farmers asked that crop insurance not be tied to conservation programs.
Dairy farmers in attendance spoke about the price risk protection and milk marketing. Steve Schlangen, Albany, talked about the value of the Dairy Margin Coverage program, which was created in the 2018 Farm Bill. He pointed out that some numbers in the program need updating, such as increasing the milk production cap from 5 million pounds to 8 million, updating farm production history and increasing the top coverage level from $9.50 to $10 per hundredweight.
Schlangen also asked for a hearing process to be put in place for federal milk marketing order reform.
“We might need Congress’ help in getting a make allowance survey and a cost of production survey for our cheese plants,” he said. “If we could make it mandatory, we’d get clear reporting and better data.”
Dairy farmer Deborah Mills, Goodhue, talked about the imbalance of U.S. milk supply and demand, and asked that lawmakers consider a different dairy marketing program that focuses on growth management.
“The Dairy Revitalization Plan is a growth management strategy that coordinates milk production growth among all dairy producers, in order to stabilize and improve prices for all,” Mills said, adding that it is not a quota system. The plan was developed after receiving input from dairy framers across the country.
Vince Baack with New Fashion Pork in Jackson raised trade and animal health issues. He explained that supporting the foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank with USDA is critical in supporting producers’ operations against the disease.
Baack asked for full funding of national animal health labs and national animal disease prepared response grants. He referenced the important role of the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Lab and noted that grants help provide surge capacity for labs across the country.
With Minnesota ranking second in the U.S. for pork production, trade is also a top farm bill priority.
“Smart bilateral and unilateral agreements are very important to us,” Baack said. “Significant product is exported to the Far East and Mexico.”
Beginning farmer difficulty
Beginning farmer Kelsey Zaavedra, North Branch, shared her challenges with getting started and continuing in the business. She raises heirloom vegetables and chickens on her 5-acre farm. She shared how difficult it was to find and buy land. She looked into Farm Service Agency loan programs but found them cumbersome to navigate and favorable to traditional farms. She said she also faced discrimination with local government officials.
“I had no idea if I would have to sell my farm and become a statistic,” Zaavedra said. “All of this is due to perception of what farmers should be. I’m an emerging farmer. As emerging farmers, we are more likely to have diverse operations that look nothing like corn and beans. We are more likely to be organic farmers, women, BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, or people of color] or queer. We are more likely to have a different marketing model than our neighboring farms. We’re more likely to be first-generation farmers who don’t inherit an extensive social network related to farmland. We are more likely to be starting from scratch and have more grit than you can imagine.”
Zaavedra said that access to land determines who will have opportunity to succeed in agriculture, and she asked that the next farm bill recognize diverse farm models and establish polices that support young farmers and farmers of color.
At the conclusion of the two-hour listening session, Bustos thanked the crowd for attending. Additional comments may be submitted online at House Agriculture Committee.
Craig also thanked those in the audience.
“Each new farm bill gives us an opportunity to address the emerging issues facing our producers and ensure that our government is giving them the resources they need to build prosperous lives in rural America,” Craig said. “It’s absolutely critical that the voices of our local farmers are heard — and that their input is valued.”
Approximately 130 people attended in person, while more than 1,000 viewed the session livestreaming online.
Watch the entire listening session on YouTube below.