Farmers say federal payments are not solving problems

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Low prices, high costs and unfavorable trade conditions continue to keep Minnesota family farms in jeopardy.

Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Low prices, high costs and unfavorable trade conditions continue to keep Minnesota family farms in jeopardy. But a group of about 20 area farmers met with a representative from Sen. Paul Wellstone’s (D-Minnesota) Willlmar office Monday to discuss what changes should be made in the US farm bill to help smaller producers thrive.

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&uot;The bottom line is right now our current farm policy … is just kind of lurching from year to year, and congress is just kind of belatedly throwing a bunch of money at farmers,&uot; said Wellstone staff member Tom Meium.

While emergency farm disaster payments have been important in keeping Minnesota farms in operation during the past few years, they do not take the place of a reliable farm policy, he said.

With the current farm bill expiring in another year, and with a continuing weak farm economy, a host of proposals is surfacing in Washington. Local farmers called for large-scale reform supporting diversification and expansion of conservation programs.

They asked legislators to think differently about farm supports rather than just tinkering with traditional programs.

&uot;Every time something goes wrong, the government just gets their checkbook out and writes a check,&uot; said Paul Koziolek of Freeborn.

The disaster bill has cost $29 billion more than originally intended, Meium said. The public sees that as welfare payments to farmers.

&uot;It’s not the farmer that’s getting subsidized, it’s the consumer,&uot; Evelyn Kluender said. &uot;If you would pay what it costs the farmer to grow the product, you wouldn’t be eating the way you are.&uot;

Wellstone is considering a modified price-support program that would help all producers earn a living wage without unduly profiting large-scale producers, Meium said.

&uot;A farmer would be free, as the market dictates, to get as large as he would wish … but with government support or government protection only up to a certain level,&uot; he said.

Other producers spoke out against price supports in all forms.

&uot;Let the farm bill die and lets go back to the ’47 model,&uot; said Garwood Larson of Twin Lakes.

&uot;What does LDP do? It makes farmers into gamblers and bookies,&uot; said Keith Bakken of Alden.

Price-support programs are geared to overproduction, and take emphasis away from sustainable agriculture and diversification, many said.

Alternative crops are not a solution because there is no market for them, said Freeborn County Extension Educator Kendall Langseth.

&uot;We talk about alternatives, we talk about other things, but the fact is we know what to do with corn,&uot; Langseth said.

&uot;It gets back to learning how to utilize what we have,&uot; he said. &uot;It doesn’t matter if its corn or soybeans or some unique thing.&uot;