Trying to solve the myriad issues in the agriculture economy – and the economy as a whole – can feel like a game of Whac-A-Mole, Rep. Angie Craig told a group of Minnesota farmers in her Washington, D.C., office.
“Input costs are up, so you’re paying more for everything,” Rep Craig said to George Goblish, a Vesta farmer and executive committee director with the American Soybean Association (ASA). “The Fed comes in and starts raising interest rates to cool down the economy and tackle inflation, but your cost of borrowing is going up. No one knows better than I do that this puzzle piece is challenging. …. Every time we try to tackle one problem, another one comes up.”
Ten Minnesota farmers – including six ASA directors, ASA Corteva Young Leaders Nathan Legatt, Mary Dybedahl, her fiancé, Paul Mesner; and MSGA President Bob Worth –participated in ASA’s biannual D.C. Hill Visits. Executive Director Joe Smentek also attended. On a sweltering July day, farmer-leaders and MSGA staff divided into two groups and visited the Capitol Hill offices of Minnesota’s congressional delegation.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it exceeded my expectations,” said Dybedahl, who works as a livestock nutritional consultant with CHS. “It was really interesting to meet with legislators and their staffers here in D.C.”
2023 Farm Bill priorities were at the top of farmers’ minds when speaking with elected officials. ASA is advocating for additional resources to strengthen the next Farm Bill, including: improving the farm safety net for soybeans, protecting crop insurance, enhancing conservation programs and more.
“I call the Farm Bill ‘The Food Security Bill,’ because that’s what it does,” ASA Director Jim Kukowski said.
The current Farm Bill expires next year, and ASA will continue refining its priorities in the coming months. The priorities were compiled after ASA held a dozen Farm Bill listening sessions and conducted an in-depth survey.
“We would like to see soybeans get a bigger slice of the pie in the next Farm Bill,” Goblish told the staff of Rep. Pete Stauber. “Everything is costing more.”
Goblish later explained to Rep. Dean Phillips’ staff that his input costs have doubled.
“Commodity prices are great,” he said, “but our margins are back down to thin again.”
Farmers also highlighted the economic and environmental benefits of biodiesel, and thanked Rep. Michelle Fischbach and Rep. Craig for supporting the extension of the biodiesel tax credit, which expires in December 2022.
“If we really want to address climate change, then biodiesel and ethanol have to be part of the mix,” Rep. Craig said. “And we want to be American-energy independent.”
Directors also discussed infrastructure improvements. ASA supports an increase in federal truck weight limits to 91,000 pounds for six-axle vehicles. Dybedahl said agriculture faces workforce challenges among her peers.
“People in our generation, they’re just not driving semis,” she said.
Mesner, who farms in Murray County and sits on his county board, told Rep. Tom Emmer’s staff that stewardship and sustainability are what guide his farming practices.
“We strive to raise the best crop we can,” said Mesner, who’s marrying Dybedahl in September 2022. “Every farmer is trying to improve the land for the next generation.”
Farmers also urged legislators to support the AQUAA Act, which would increase aquaculture production.
“90 percent of our fish is imported,” Goblish told Rep. Dean Phillips’ staff. “Why can’t we raise it here?”
Both groups met in person with Minnesota’s two senators, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, who both sit on the Senate Ag Committee. Between meetings, farmers also visited ASA’s new D.C. office.
Worth, who was elected MSGA president in June, was humbled to return to the nation’s capital and represent Minnesota’s farmers on the Hill.
“We had a lot of good conversations with our elected leaders and their teams. Talked a lot of issues that matter to farmers,” Worth said. “It was just great to be back in D.C. ‘Never say never,’ I guess.”