Klobuchar listens to ag concerns at Mantorville meeting
As Congress begins work on a new farm bill, Sen. Amy Klobuchar stopped in Mantorville last week to listen to concerns of area farmers at a noon session sponsored by the Dodge County Farmers Union.
Representatives of U.S. Senator Tina Smith and 1st District Congressman Brad Finstad also attended the meeting. Klobuchar and Smith both serve on the Senate’s ag committee while Finstad is a member of the House ag committee.
Klobuchar pointed out that Minnesota is only one of two states with both senators on the ag committee, important, she said, because ag and rural issues are so important to the state.
Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union also attended the session. In his opening remarks, Wertish said that the Farmers Union’s Fairness for Farmers effort has seen success in bringing more awareness of the impact corporate consolidation has on the family farm. The current farm bill is working fairly well, he said, but there are some farmers who feel they are being left out, particularly those raising specialty crops.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, specialty crops are defined as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops.”
The U.S. Farm Bill comes up for renewal every five years and Congress is currently in the beginning stages of crafting the next version.
Klobuchar said that the job of Congress over the next two years is to get a farm bill that keeps what is “good and strong” in the current legislation and makes what changes are necessary. The farm bill, she added, is one area where legislators work across the aisle to create a bill.
There are a lot of good things in the current bill, she said, ranging from crop insurance and dealing with Avian flu to dairy and sugar programs.
There are, however, still other issues that need to be addressed, she said, both specifically about agriculture and about rural issues in general.
Klobuchar touched on several issues she would like to see addressed in the next farm bill but also spent time listening to those who attended the meeting.
Among those topics was corporate consolidation in agriculture.
Jim Checkel, who farms in Dodge County, asked what might be in the upcoming bill that would address this issue. He pointed out that the latest information from the USDA showed the median farm household income was about $94,000 in 2022 and $96,000 in 2023. Of that, he said, only about $600 actually comes from farming. Farm families, he said, must rely on non-farm income.
At the same time, he said, the big agriculture corporations are reporting increased revenue.
Klobuchar said she believed the best way to deal with this issue would be to change the anti-trust laws, not just for agriculture but for all industries. She said she hopes that the final farm bill includes a title or at least a part of the title to deal with this.
Currently, she said, the government has to prove that an action hurts competition. She said she would like to change that to require corporations to prove an action does not hurt competition.
Using the Sherman Act is now ineffective, Klobuchar said, because of Supreme Court decisions, and also the influence of lobbyists.
“I’ve got to overcome all this lobbying,” she said. She added there are 2,800 lawyers and lobbyists and she has two lawyers to take on these big companies.
She pointed out that people in both the Trump and Biden administrations have supported changes to the anti-trust laws.
Wind and solar operations also were on the minds of those attending addressed not only to Klobuchar but also to the representatives of Smith’s and Finstad’s offices. The topic was fresh on their minds as a week earlier the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved a 1,500-acre solar farm in the county. Projects such as this as well as wind turbines, farmers said, are taking prime farmland out of production, area farmers and residents contended.
Photo: Photo by Karen M. Jorgensen Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish talked about the farm bill now being developed in Washington.