Several times during the American Soybean Association’s 2021 Hill Visit, farmer-leaders began speaking with legislators … except, the voice coming from the speakers sounded muffled and distorted. It wasn’t intentional, but proved to drive home a point. Even if the connection was spotty, the message from Minnesota farmers to lawmakers in Washington was crystal clear: Rural America needs stronger internet access.
“I can tell you need it,” Rep. Jim Hagedorn, MN-1, quipped when the feed from the phone of Cannon Falls farmer Brad Hovel, a director with the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, led to his voice sounding like a distant echo from a faraway galaxy.
“Obviously, we need better broadband here in rural Minnesota,” Hovel told the congressman.
Chris Hill, a Jackson farmer and ASA director, ran into the same troubles to begin the day, when MSGA met virtually with Rep. Pete Stauber, MN-8. Throughout the day, MSGA, led by President Jamie Beyer, underscored to legislators from both parties the dire need for improved infrastructure in rural Minnesota, including broadband resources. Rep. Angie Craig, MN-2, said passing an infrastructure bill is one of the Democrats’ top legislative priorities following the passage of the American Rescue Plan.
“We have an understanding of what broadband inequality looks like,” she said.
Stauber expressed his support for infrastructure upgrades, and also discussed trade, and conservation practices with farmer-leaders, which included Redwood County growers Kelli and Jeff Sorenson, members of the newest class of ASA’s Young Leader Program.
“The American farmer feeds us and feeds the world,” Stauber said. “My philosophy is farmers are the best stewards of the land.”
The Hill Visits are normally held in-person in Washington, D.C, but took place on Zoom this spring (ASA is hoping for a return to in-person advocacy visits this summer). Following the meeting with Rep. Stauber, MSGA met with Sen. Tina Smith, who was recently named chair of the Senate Ag Committee’s Rural Development and Energy Panel. MSGA directors thanked Smith for her backing biofuels and pushing the EPA to uphold the Renewable Fuel Standard.
“Biodiesel hits a home run in so many ways,” said Hill, who also sits on the National Biodiesel Foundation Board.
Smith said she’s eager to begin conversation on the next farm bill and has been encouraged by the spike in commodity prices.
“It feels like things are picking up,” Sen. Smith said. “I’ll do everything I can to support you.”
Tom Slunecka, CEO of Ag Management Solutions, which oversees MSGA’s daily operations, told the senator the organization isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty.
“We’re willing to put in the hard work to help our farmers,” he said.
MSGA met with a legislative assistant to Rep. Ilhan Omar, MN-5, and outlined how agriculture impacts economies not just in rural Minnesota, but in the Minneapolis area as well.
“Pretty much anything in Minnesota is related to agriculture,” Slunecka said.
Hovel said urban and rural Minnesotans are more connected than they may realize.
“You’ve got the people, and we’ve got the food,” he said. “We’ve got to find common goals.”
Brian Werner, Amy Klobuchar’s senior legislative assistant, met with the farmer-advocates to discuss the senator’s ag-related priorities. Werner said Klobuchar has spoken with new EPA Administrator Michael Regan to discuss the economic impact of biofuels and the RFS to Minnesota producers. ASA Director Jim Kukowski told Werner it’s important crop insurance protection measures are kept in place.
“If I didn’t have crop insurance,” said Kukowski, who farms near the Canadian border in Roseau County, “I wouldn’t be farming today.”
Maintaining and improving trade access was also a key priority for farmers throughout the day.
“I’m a pro-trade Democrat,” said Rep. Craig, who serves on the House Ag Committee.
Rep. Tom Emmer, MN-6, met with eight farmer leaders, and touched on what he sees as a “renaissance” in rural America. Emmer also said he’s opposed to estate tax and believes farmers “are the best environmentalists we have.”
MSGA visited with Rep. Michelle Fischbach for the first time since she defeated Collin Peterson in Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District. Fischbach was recently named to the House Ag Committee, and said she’s excited to work for farmers in her district, which is one of the nation’s most productive ag regions. Slunecka urged the congresswoman to support trade programs that benefit growers in her district.
“Smart trade policy is also smart global policy,” he said.
The second round of Hill Visits start next week, this time at the state level. Beginning Monday, MSGA is slated to meet with dozens of state lawmakers and will cap the week with a virtual visit with Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen.
“We want to keep having a seat at the table,” Kukowski said. “These meetings help ensure we’re at the table, not on the menu.”