Column: The Farm Bill: -- A bipartisan win that works for Minnesota
WASHINGTON — When I first came to Congress, my number one ask was to be on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. The reason was simple: I wanted to work on behalf of the communities and people of rural Minnesota. People like Joe Arnold and his parents who I met at their family farm in Holloway earlier this year. Sitting around their dining room table, Joe told me about his grandpa Vernon, who built their farm from nothing in the late 1960s. Vernon was an original shareholder of the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, a legacy that continues today with Joe. At only 22 years old, Joe is a third generation farmer and hopes to continue the tradition started by his grandpa.
It's no secret that Minnesota farmers have had a rough couple years and are facing a lot of uncertainty. There are increasing questions about access to some of our biggest export markets in the countries. Farm commodity prices are down for the fourth straight year and have been cut in half since 2013. Rural America should know that in a time of trade disruptions, low prices, and drastic weather events, I stand with the men and women of our agriculture industry — the backbone of our economy.
Standing up for farmers and for our rural communities is an important way to break down the urban/rural divide that exists in America. That’s why policy makers in Washington must continue to focus on the issues that need to be addressed in rural America — like rural housing, health care, the need for consistently reliable mobile phone service, access to broadband internet and consistent agricultural policies that allow farmers to make a good living, take care of their land, and to be able to pass on their farm to their family and kids.
In Minnesota, we’re proud of our agriculture industry, which ranks fifth in the nation. Our state’s prosperity depends on supporting and strengthening our farms and rural communities. That’s why I’ve always fought so hard for a strong bipartisan Farm Bill. And late last year, right before the holidays, the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law. This bipartisan achievement will help farmers like Joe carry on their family’s tradition by providing them the certainty and support they need to succeed.
The bill included a number of improvements to the farm safety net, like protecting and expanding crop insurance. And it provided better support for dairy producers, who have been hit especially hard. It also included several of my provisions to help Minnesota farmers and rural communities. I also successfully worked to create an animal disease vaccine bank and disaster response program, continued support for renewable energy programs, promoted precision agriculture and broadband deployment, and allowed each dairy operation that participated in the Margin Protection Program from 2014-2017 to receive a repayment of a portion of premiums paid over that time period as either a fifty percent direct refund or a seventy-five percent credit toward future premiums.
This isn’t just a win for farmers — it’s a win for conservationists, too. I worked on several bipartisan provisions with South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune that will help protect our environment while supporting hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. These include provisions that increased the acreage cap in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to 27 million acres, reduced incentives to convert native sod to crop production by closing a loophole in the Sodsaver program, and laid the groundwork for farmers to take advantage of existing USDA conservation data in order to streamline their operations, reduce their risk, and enhance their yields. This law also included my amendment to protect critical funding for the energy title, notably the REAP program that will enable rural farmers to make their farms more energy efficient, saving them money and investing in a cleaner environment that will benefit our children and grandchildren.
Minnesota’s strength comes from our economic traditions of hard work and opportunity. These opportunities come in many forms, from family farms, to agribusinesses, to processors, to cooperatives, to the delicious home grown food that graces our tables. Minnesota depends on and is invested in the success of our farms and rural communities and this new Farm Bill is a great step forward. I hope it’s just the beginning of Congress putting politics aside and getting things done that Minnesota farmers — like Joe Arnold and his family’s farm in Holloway — can be proud of and that helps America tear down the rural/urban divide.