My Point of View: National farm policy should reflect our shared values

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Our member of Congress, Brad Finstad, serves the interests of the biggest farmers to the detriment of everyone else he represents in this district.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Finstad runs interference for big farmers when the topic of farm size comes up. On the Groundwork podcast in March, the interviewer noted, “So you kind of see this division that’s in farm country, of the 1.9 million farms, 173,000 [9%] are doing 87% of production.”

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Finstad took a weirdly defensive posture regarding this shocking statistic, saying, “So politicians and policymakers and the executive branch like to cherry pick data to try to pit people against each other. So that data set that you just used was really a springboard for some Democrats and actually the secretary [Tom Vilsack] to talk about the farm size. Too big of farms, corporate farms, family farms, hobby farms. They want to tell us what this ideal Norman Rockwell painting of a farm is. You know, three hogs in the front yard with the red barn with white trim and 100 acres in the back.”

Ironically, I think people are more inclined to accept how expensive our farm subsidies are if they maintain an idyllic, outdated picture of farming, not the heavily industrialized version that the bulk of our production now comes from.

Did we really want the outcome of our taxpayer assistance to farmers to result in hyper-concentrated agricultural production? I doubt Finstad would encourage his constituents to take a closer inspection of the USDA census numbers and see how decimated the middle is as a result of decades of farm bill provisions that give an advantage to big farms.

The policies Finstad supports, in fact, give larger producers more leverage to swallow up ever more of their remaining neighbors’ farms. The top 10% of farms raked in 80% of agricultural subsidies between 1995 and 2021, and the top 1% got over 25% of subsidies.

One major segment of subsidies is crop insurance. Farmers pay only 38% of the cost of their insurance, while taxpayers foot the remaining 62% of the cost. More than half the subsidies are for corn and soybeans. There are no acreage caps on this exorbitantly subsidized rate, so this government assistance is an incentive for farms to get bigger and take advantage of economies of scale while still managing their risk on the taxpayers’ dime.

The public cost of subsidizing this private insurance coverage has risen steeply over the past few decades and will keep climbing as climate change-related disasters become more intense.

Related to this, I want to reiterate a correction I made to my last column in case you didn’t see it in last week’s paper. The correct percentage of farm income in Freeborn County from government subsidies was about 7% in 2022, which was an unusually high farm income year. The average net farm income from government payments was 21% in Minnesota from 2015 to 2022.

At the beginning of June, Finstad recognized Christensen Farms of Sleepy Eye on the House floor, congratulating them for being the biggest hog producer in Minnesota and one of the top 10 biggest hog producers in the U.S. on its 50th anniversary.

Greg Howard, president of Christensen Farms, donated $5,000 to Brad Finstad’s Field of Dreams PAC in December 2023.

Powerful players scratching each other’s backs. It’s a huge turn-off to voters.

The farm bill, too, is a prime example of crony capitalism, for the benefit of a few instead of the many. Finstad is a big farmer in the pocket of even bigger farmers when he goes to Capitol Hill.

“Get big or get out” farm policies have squeezed people out of small rural communities in the past 50 years. Brown county, where Finstad and Christensen Farms are from, has lost over 10% of its population in that time. Freeborn County has lost nearly 20% of its population.

Our communities have shrunk as farms have expanded.

Instead of someone who goes to bat for the powerful few, would you rather support someone who will lace it through for “bottom up and middle out” policies? If so, Rachel Bohman is the candidate for you.

Our farm policy should reflect our shared values — producing nutritious food, maintaining health and protecting the environment which is our life support system. Right now, our farm bill is not serving those objectives well. It’s tuned to the interests of huge farmers, commodity associations, grain traders and agribusiness giants — and their objective is reaping profits and extracting value.

Happy Independence Day next week. Support independent local businesses and growers. Believe in our rural communities and invest in them. Know our worth is way more than a dollar value, and vote for Rachel Bohman for Congress.

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