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Ag roundtable addresses regional concerns

District 22A Rep. Joe Schomacker (left), U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn and District 22 Sen. Bill Weber listen during an agriculture roundtable discussion Friday in Luverne. (Leah Ward/The Globe)

LUVERNE — District 22 Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne), District 22A Rep. Joe Schomacker (R-Luverne) and U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota’s First District visited Luverne Friday to hold an agriculture roundtable discussion. Community members were invited to ask questions and express the concerns they have about agriculture.

Weber opened the discussion by acknowledging that “we are an ag community. As a result, the issues that hit the farmers hit the rest of the business community.”

Hagedorn agreed.

“We have to make sure we do everything possible to sustain agriculture because it sustains our rural way of life,” he said.

A number of concerns were brought forward by community members during the discussion.

Local farmers would like clarification on the qualifications for prevented planting payment. Hagedorn said he’s working with the USDA and encouraging it to simplify the rules so farmers are better able to navigate the bureaucratic system in seeking aid.

Township roads remain a problem following the wet spring season. Rural gravel roads need repair, and township boards have appealed to FEMA for assistance. However, it was reported that the process for acquiring FEMA aid has been slow and frustrating.

Each time a new FEMA representative comes to do an evaluation, leaders have to start over in supplying information on damage assessments. Although FEMA’s records have been digitized, the various departments don’t always share those records with each other.

The seeming wild goose chase is maddening to small communities who cannot easily navigate their townships due to road damage, and don’t have the reserves or the tax base to finance repairs without state or federal aid.

After hearing these concerns, Hagedorn agreed to look into the issue and try to find a solution.

Another major concern is trade conflicts the U.S. is having with China, Mexico and Canada.

Hagedorn explained that he supports the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA). He has urged President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to put the ratification of USMCA to Congress for a vote quickly.

“There is some concern that the Speaker won’t even give us a vote on that issue,” Hagedorn said. If there is a vote, he will vote in favor of USMCA.

As for the strain with China, Hagedorn said some of China’s demand for U.S. soybeans was going to decrease anyway because so many Chinese hogs are afflicted with African swine fever.

“What is going on with China was long overdue,” he said. Hagedorn added that although China produces 50% of the world’s steel, it didn’t get to that position by innovation and invention, but by dumping steel and stealing intellectual property.

He said that China had been negotiating for months with the U.S. government and suddenly reversed its stance on half of the points of agreement, causing the ongoing kerfuffle.

“China’s a tough customer,” he said.

Weber agreed on this point.

“We needed to go through some of this because we really didn’t have free trade to begin with,” he said.

Hagedorn reiterated his three priorities for agriculture: 1) drop the cost of farming by curtailing regulations, 2) sustain farmers through tough times and 3) expand trade by dropping barriers.

“The concept of tariffs has diminishing returns,” he said, stating that he supports tariffs to get the attention of a foreign government but doesn’t see them as a long-term solution.

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