By Don Davis
REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. — Outside the Minnesota Corn Growers Association Farmfest tent, a sign urged people to go inside and send an email to U.S. lawmakers urging quick action on the federal farm bill.
Inside, two computers stood idle for much of the three-day farm show.
“They have been farmer nice for a long time,” association Public Policy Director Anna Bellin said, adding that “we have to nudge them.”
“There is plenty of apathy out there,” President Kevin Papp of the Minnesota Farm Bureau said, even though a series of Farmfest speakers urged farmers to write to their members of Congress and demand action.
Farmers roaming the three-day Farmfest event, a show of everything agriculture, did not seem as worked up over the bill as people like Papp and Bellin would have liked.
There was the apathy that Papp mentioned, but most farmers interviewed expressed even more frustration about lack of action in Washington.
Another reason they have not written congressmen is confusion. (Farmers probably should not be embarrassed about being confused because veteran U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said that even he could not predict the farm bill’s outcome.)
Then there is the fact that many farmers are doing well. Crop prices are coming down from the summit they recently hit, but as Gov. Mark Dayton said, corn prices still are up 143 percent over the past 10 years.
Still another factor is the feeling that Congress will do something.
Al Teich of Pine County said there are many reasons not to get worked up about the lack of passage of the farm bill, but he and other farmers should be concerned.
“We need to see what we are going to get to see what to plant in the spring,” he said.
How Congress deals with crop insurance, for instance, could affect what crops are planted. Many farmers will need to take out loans to buy seed, so they must be able to tell the bank what they will plant.
Among farmers’ frustrations, Teich said, is: “They call their congressman and nothing happens.”
Teich said he does not expect a farm bill to pass this year, a feeling held by many at Farmfest, a reason he thinks most farmers are quiet about the farm bill this year: “I think they have kinda given up.”
Many livestock farmers see little to gain in a farm bill, keeping a large segment of the farm community quiet.
Terry Paulson of Aitkin County, standing in line waiting to be honored as a top farm family, said livestock farmers like him (he has a cow-calf operation) do not receive profit guarantees like provided with crop insurance.
Brad Hennen of Ghent, a hog producer with a brother who raises crops on the family farm, said the problem is farm bill writers are not taking a broad enough look at the issue.
“We need to prioritize,” he said, complaining that existing federal farm policy is a collection of what political leaders want.
“It’s like 10 different cooks throwing food in a stew and none of the guys know what the others are putting in,” Hennen said.
Many farmers have the attitude “if the farm bill leaves me alone, I’m OK,” Hennen said.
“You’re not going to see a tractorcade to Washington because there is not that kind of hurt,” he added.
The farm bill, which would fund federal farm programs such as crop insurance for five years, is at a standstill in Congress. The Democratic-controlled Senate overwhelmingly passed its version, including a slight cut for food stamp funding, but Republicans who run the House passed its farm-funding measure with no Democratic support and no food stamp funding.
Food stamps and farm programs were wed in the 1970s in an attempt to get urban support for farm funding and rural support for food stamps.
Once Congress returns early next month, the House expects to vote on a separate food stamp funding bill and then negotiators are to be appointed to work out farm and nutrition funding and policy differences with the Senate.
But since senators voted for a $4 billion food stamp cut in the next decade and House Republicans now seem to favor cutting 10 times that amount, even experts like former House Agriculture Chairman Peterson wonder whether there will be a new farm bill, a full extension of current farm policy, a modified extension, something else or nothing at all.
People need to keep telling Congress to pass a farm bill, President Roger Johnson of the National Farmers Union said. “There is nothing more effective than a member (of Congress) standing on the floor” quoting from letters.
“You should be really irritated,” U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., told farmers. “Ask us to be reasonable and compromise.”