A Hill of beans: Soy growers return to the Capitol

The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association walked familiar ground to begin March, as seven farmer leaders from MSGA and the American Soybean Association gathered in Washington, D.C. for the return of Capitol Hill Visits.

“It was an honor to once again walk the halls of the Capitol and advocate for soybean growers at the state and national levels,” said MSGA President Mike Skaug, who last visited the nation’s capital in July 2019. “While virtual meetings certainly have their place, nothing beats face to face connections.”

Skaug and Executive Director Joe Smentek were joined by six of the seven farmers MSGA supports on the ASA board: Jamie Beyer, George Goblish, Chris Hill, Jim Kukowski, Michael Petefish and Joel Schreurs (Adam Guetter was unable to attend). On Tuesday, ASA’s board met for meetings and prepared for the following day’s Hill Visit. Members of the House Ag Committee sat on a panel, discussing legislative issues and the upcoming Farm Bill. EPA Agriculture Advisor Rod Snyder spoke with farmers about EPA’s stance on pesticide use and the Waters of the United States (WOTUS).

“The EPA touches on so much of what we do,” ASA Director of Government Affairs Kyle Kunkler said.

Capitol comeback

On Wednesday, Minnesota’s team divided into two groups and headed for the Hill. Capitol security now mandates that all visitors are brought in via staff escort, creating longer lines at entrances. Still, it was a small price to pay to return to in person advocacy.

“The restrictions inside the Capitol aren’t ideal, but we made the most of it,” said Hill, a Jackson farmer. “We got used to it by the end of the day.”

In the morning, ASA directors met with Rep. Tom Emmer’s staff, and underscored the effects farmers have felt from ongoing supply chain issues, namely soaring input prices. Throughout the day, farmers urged legislators and their assistants to ease the supply chain bottlenecks to help enhance the nation’s food security.

Minnesota has the most ASA board directors (seven) in MSGA’s 60-year history.

“Supply chain directly affects everything we do that helps put the seed in the ground,” Kukowski said. “We are especially being hurt right now by herbicide shortages.”

In addition to the supply chain, farmers promoted ASA’s priorities in the upcoming Farm Bill. ASA has already held 12 Farm Bill listening sessions and will continue developing its principles this spring.

“We want to be considered in the conversation when the Farm Bill is being developed,” Petefish, who previously served as MSGA president, said during a meeting with Rep. Michelle Fischbach.

Goblish, who sits on ASA’s Executive Committee, asked the congresswoman to support a key ASA priority: legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley that extends the biodiesel tax credit through 2025,

“Everyone wants clean air and biodiesel is the way to do it,” Goblish said.

In the afternoon, Skaug, Hill and Smentek met with Rep. Angie Craig, who offered her continued support of the biodiesel tax credit, which expires at the end of the year. Throughout the meetings, farmer directors also urged legislators to support the AQUAA Act to increase U.S. aquaculture production.

“Aquaculture is a win-win for consumers and farmers,” Schreurs said.

Other policy topics during the Hill Visits included: lowering farmers’ tax burdens, conservation practices and increasing market access.

“Policies like the stepped-up basis help us sustain our farming operation so the next generation can carry on,” said Skaug, who farms with his wife, DeAnn, and their son, Ryan.

The day on the Hill concluded with a meeting in the Hart Senate Office Building, where MSGA’s full delegation met with Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Tina Smith’s agriculture staff.

On March 22, MSGA will hold its Hill Visits and Legislative Reception in St. Paul.

“Between the board meeting and Hill Visits, we had a very productive time in Washington, D.C.,” Smentek said. “After being unable to be at the Capitol for more than two years, we don’t take for granted the opportunity to be here.”

Follow The Conversation