My Point of View: Federal agriculture policy should benefit everyone

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2024

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My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Representative Brad Finstad: Congress is for me but not for thee.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

While Finstad protects farm commodity subsidies that benefit rich farmers like himself, he voted in committee for deep cuts in USDA funding for SNAP (food assistance programs), so an estimated $30 billion that would have gone to food aid over the next decade can be reallocated to other parts of the 2024 Farm Bill.

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Finstad is so out-of-touch that he said on a Groundwork podcast in March, “We have a couple of generations now that rarely have to worry about going to bed at night with an empty stomach, and that is a blessing that we should not take for granted.”

This is simply not true. According to the U of M’s Food Security Dashboard, food insecurity in Albert Lea’s census tracts ranges between 9 and 16%, yet Finstad wants to restrict SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits lift thousands of Minnesotans over the poverty line every year. In 2022, the average monthly benefit per person in the state was $228.81, and most of the money went straight into local economies.

Finstad often refers to himself as a “fourth generation farmer.” It would be much more impressive to be a first generation farmer, because the barriers to entry are incredibly high.

“Farmer” has practically become an inherited title.

It’s easier to become a first-generation doctor, lawyer or dentist than it is to become a first generation commodity farmer. Many multi-generation farmers have to work off-farm for health insurance and household income, despite starting with a big advantage.

Republican farm policies have removed people from farms and supported mechanization and concentration, best summed up by Earl Butz’s phrase “Get big or get out.” People who weren’t the biggest and/or luckiest (being hard working is necessary but not sufficient) emptied off the land, voluntarily or involuntarily, since the 1950s.

In Freeborn County, the 1950 Census of Agriculture reported 3,004 farms with an average size of 145 acres. By 1969, the census reported 1,963 farms with an average of 208 acres per farm. In 2022, the county had 908 farms with an average size of 387 acres.

On the 459 Freeborn County farms that received subsidies, about one-fourth of farm-related income came from federal assistance.

Finstad has a 700-acre farm on which he grows corn and soybeans. That’s on the bigger side, and consider that an acre of farmland in Minnesota is worth, on average, about $6,600. The average price that farmland sold for in Brown County in 2022 was $8,259 per acre.

That means Finstad’s 700 acres of farmland are likely worth north of $4.6 million.

If Finstad had rented it out at the average cropland rate per acre, last year he would have collected over $160,000 in rent.

Finstad probably doesn’t want people to look too deeply at farm policies that privilege bigger farmers over others. Concentration of land has contributed to concentration of rural wealth, depopulation of rural areas, consolidation of rural school districts and loss of locally-owned businesses on Main Streets.

Commodity crops are also inefficient at feeding people. Forty percent of corn goes into biofuels. A big chunk of both crops go into feeding livestock. Some of it reaches people’s mouths in highly-processed form, like energy bars containing soybean protein and high fructose corn syrup.

Because so much of the corn crop goes into biofuels or feeding livestock, each acre used in corn production only yields one-fifth of the food calories that it could if it were used to grow crops that feed people directly.

We highly subsidize this inefficient system, even though the health benefit to society is degraded and the environmental costs (nitrate pollution, glyphosate contamination) are high, and Brad Finstad is committed to preserving it for his own benefit.

Finstad even has the nerve to make the claim, “What we [farmers] do is the most noble profession in this country.”

Farming isn’t really more “noble” than any other vital profession that keeps our country sheltered, fed, healthy, educated and functioning. The difference is that one practically needs a title of nobility to get into farming.

I grew up on a farm, and I don’t think we should privilege farmers over anyone else. Even as Finstad is shepherding subsidies for rich farmers like himself through Congress, he has the cheek to say, “I tell my kids all the time our goal is to have a ‘Not Congress.’”

In other words, “Eat cake, peasants.”

Put Finstad’s aristocratic cropaganda to tougher scrutiny. Our enormously expensive ag policy should benefit everyone instead of primarily the landed gentry, chemical giants like Bayer (which bought Monsanto), and agribusiness giants like Cargill.

Please support Rachel Bohman for Congress, for fairer and more efficient food policy. Please also support small local farmers and ranchers at our farmers’ market.

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