My Point of View: Republicans throwing farmers out of business

Published 7:00 pm Monday, October 7, 2019

My Point of View, By Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

We’re in the midst of another farm crisis, and it’s being felt hardest in rural areas like ours.

At his August town hall in Albert Lea, Congressman Hagedorn’s answers for the farm financial crunch are to repeal the estate tax, get rid of Obamacare and undo environmental safeguards.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

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To be blunt, none of these “remedies” are going to save farms.

Farmers are not posthumously losing their farms because Uncle Sam takes too much of their estate after they die. But they are losing them by the thousands while fully alive because commodity and livestock prices are too low and they either give up voluntarily or creditors force the sale of their farms.

Only a tiny percentage of farms have any estate tax liability, and the services of a competent estate planner can help these rare families successfully manage generational transfers. I challenge Hagedorn to name a single family in the 1st District who has been forced out of farming because they owed too many estate taxes.

At Wisconsin’s Dairy Expo last week, Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, said, “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out.”

This is the true objective of Republican farm policies, and it’s working.

Over 1,500 Wisconsin dairy farmers have gone out of milking in the past three years alone. This has nothing to do with estate taxes. It has a great deal to do with overproduction and lack of federal and state support.

Simply stated, the estate tax is not the problem. It has never been the problem, and any politician who supports repealing it (Rep. Peggy Bennett included) is looking out first and foremost for the biggest farmers who would gain even more advantage if it’s gone.

As for Obamacare, Republicans used farmers and others on the individual health insurance market as leverage to try to yank health insurance out from under millions of Americans who had gained it from the original legislation. A public option could have fixed this “donut hole.” Instead of giving an inch on their free market ideology, Republicans let farmers take a financial hit. Hagedorn admitted as much to the Albert Lea crowd, saying, “And you start taking twenty and thirty thousand dollars out of farm incomes for five and six years, it’s real money.”

Yes, Hagedorn, it absolutely is real money to these farmers, and it’s real money they couldn’t spend on their operations and in our local economy. Farmers suffered badly as hostages of Republican intransigence on health care reform, and our entire community felt the effects.

Furthermore, jobs with the best health insurance benefits are less likely to be in rural areas. We are at a geographical disadvantage that would only be worsened by killing Obamacare.

Hagedorn wants us to put all our eggs in the free market, when the free market is clearly leaving us behind. His home county of Faribault, which his own wife doesn’t even reside in, has lost over 30% of its population over the past 50 years. Freeborn County has lost 20% of its population.

The free market is not going to save us. The free market is stripping us for parts, like our beautiful full-service hospital that will soon be reduced to an emergency room and psychiatric care unit by next month.

The only people who are going to save us is us. We raise good people and make good products here that contribute to the strength of our country, and we must demand fair treatment, government investment and markets that work for everyone, not just big farmers and agribusiness.

Hagedorn tried to convince attendees at the Albert Lea town hall that Democrats are trying to “throw (our farmers) out of business” with legislation to protect the environment, but he clearly supports policies in which only big farmers will eventually remain on the land, like an agrarian “Hunger Games.”

Please think these outcomes through and decide which party is really trying to throw farmers out of business. In the Republican agricultural policy realm, which of the biggest farmers will survive the free market games? And who ultimately benefits from long-term soil health and water quality being trivialized?

It’s value check time, and Jim Hagedorn is a dead end for rural America, a country road with stubborn farmyard lights at last surrendering to darkness.

Fortunately voters will likely have an excellent option in the 2020 CD-1 race because Dan Feehan has just announced his candidacy for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor ticket. He is a kind and decent man, a veteran, and he’s raising a young family in the district. He has a much brighter vision for the future of southern Minnesota and rural America.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.