MSGA participates in roundtable panel with USDA secretary, ag leaders

Bob Worth, the president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA), isn’t one who gets nervous often during meetings with legislators and regulators. Twenty years of farmer advocacy at the state and national levels has had a calming effect.

But getting to visit face-to-face with USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack for the first time gave Worth some butterflies.

“As a farmer advocate, it’s a dream come true to visit with the secretary of agriculture,” said Worth, who had met Vilsack’s predecessor, Sonny Perdue, at the 2019 Farmfest. “There’s no replacing the opportunity to have an in-person discussion about the issues that pertain to all of us in agriculture.”

Worth participated in a roundtable on the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato alongside Vilsack, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Thom Petersen, Whitney Place of the Farm Service Agency and Minnesota commodity leaders.

During his discussion with the secretary, Worth underscored the need for more resources in a new Farm Bill. Worth, who is entering his 54th year of farming this year, also encouraged lawmakers and agency leaders to support legislation and programs to promote new and emerging farmers.

“We need to take a look at how we’re going to get these farmers on the land to make it viable for them to be a farmer,” said Worth, who farms with his son, Jon. “It’s very difficult for them to get started, and that’s really said.”

Vilsack, who owns a farm in Iowa, was receptive to Worth’s concerns. He pointed out that a bright spot in the 2022 Agriculture Census reported an increase in beginning farmers, along with the first spike in rural population in a decade. Creating federal tax incentives for farmers to pass down the farm to the next generation would be a positive step, Vilsack said.

“That was a great comment you made,” he said to Worth, adding, “There are positive happenings, and we need to continue that momentum, which is why we invested in programs that try to and create support structures and systems for those farmers.”

Minnesota leading the conservation conversation

Earlier in the event, Sec. Vilsack announced the availability of $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2024 to invest in partner-driven conservation and climate solutions through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) as part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda. USDA is accepting project proposals now through July 2, 2024, that will help Minnesota farmers, ranchers and forest landowners adopt and expand conservation strategies to enhance natural resources while tackling the climate crisis. These projects in turn can save farmers money, create new revenue streams and increase productivity.

Troy Daniell (right), NRCS state conservationist for Minnesota, visits with Minnesota farmers Jim Kukowski (middle) and Darin Johnson (left) following a roundtable panel with USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack.

The announcement is made available through the Farm Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate investment in history, which has enabled USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to boost funding for RCPP. Additionally, NRCS is announcing progress on its effort to streamline and simplify RCPP and improve processes and implementation.

“We had unprecedented demand for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program last year, showing the robust interest in conservation from farmers and ranchers,” Secretary Vilsack said. “Through the increase in funding from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, we’re able to invest even more this year in this important program, increasing our impact across the landscape. We’re looking forward to seeing what the more streamlined and customer-oriented Regional Conservation Partnership Program can do to get more conservation on the ground in the coming months and years.”

Vilsack commended Minnesota for being a leader in promoting conservation practices, including the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, which MSGA has supported since the program launched a decade ago.

“You’ve all been very heavily engaged in conservation. Minnesota producers and farmers are absolutely committed to conservation,” Vilsack said during his keynote introduction, which was held in the Centennial Student Union. “It’s a state that has a state government that understands that conservation is important, and an innovative and progressive Commissioner of Agriculture (Thom Petersen) here who understands this.”

Along with Worth, MSGA Vice President Darin Johnson, Executive Director Joe Smentek and American Soybean Association Director Jim Kukowski also attended the event.

“You got the secretary’s attention!” Kukowski told Worth afterwards.

For Worth, who’s wrapping up his fourth year as MSGA over the past 20 years, the event was a day to remember.

“It was amazing to be here with my peers and all be on the same page during our visit with the secretary,” he said.

Follow The Conversation