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Will's Windmill: Infighting in Congress loses sight of ag interests

It seems that Congress and the President are never going to take a pragmatic look at what must be included in the production side of the Farm Bill.

They haggle over 'interests,' protecting big money constituents, party politics, pork barreling and positioning. While doing all this infighting, they lose sight of what is really happening to agriculture in this country.

In my opinion, they should take a hard look at the demographics and direction of agriculture, and advocate for a farm and rural policy that would revitalize rural America and create a future of hope.

For example, addressing the challenges facing those who wish to become farmers and ranchers should be a priority. In 1978, the United States had 350,000 farmers that were 34 years of age or younger.

The USDA 2002 Census of Agriculture revealed, about 70,000 people 34 years of age or younger listing their primary occupation as farming. Less than one percent of America's farmers are under 25 years of age, while nearly one-third are 65 or older.

The fastest growing age group of farmers and ranchers are those 70 or older, the fastest declining is those 25 and younger. Shouldn't something be done to interest young people? Financial and educational incentives for young farmers would be a good place to start.

The loopholes in 'payment limits' should be tightened up! The 2007 Farm Bill should set an enforceable payment limits on loan deficiency payments, marketing loan gains, and all other income support payments. This limit should be strictly applied to everyone, regardless of how many corporations they create.

The bill should eliminate loopholes that allow large operations to receive millions in loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains through generic certificates or by forfeiting commodities to USDA to pay off loans. It should also tighten rules on who can qualify for farm programs to require more active involvement in management or labor.

The 'Rural Development,' 'Research' and 'Energy' components of the farm bill should advocate for entrepreneurial development in rural areas and strategies to build assets and wealth for rural people and in rural communities.

We need to address the growing economic disparity between rural and urban areas of the nation by attracting people to rural areas and ensuring the long-term future of rural America. The research focus should be on increasing the profitability of small and mid-sized farms and ranches.

The energy component should subsidize sustainable energy entrepreneurship. Funding education, both youth and adult, and building rural technology and other infrastructure will help make this possible and the future hopeful.

Congress keeps talking about conservation, but never seems to arrive at a comprehensive plan for addressing conservation concerns. The rules and paperwork can be overwhelming in the present conservation programs such as CSP, EQIP or CRP.

Are these programs the best way to address conservation issues? The 'Conservation Title' of the 2007 Farm Bill should focus on rewarding good stewardship of the land and focus on environmentally sensitive areas.

Each of us has an obligation to leave the land at least as well as we receive it, and the public also has an obligation to share in the cost of protecting the land and water on which all of us -- current and future generations -- rely on for survival.

The farm bill involves a lot of money, and we all need to be reminded that approximately 60 - 67 percent of the funds allocated through the farm bill go to nutritional programs, such as food stamps. The remainder is split in the following ways: 12-15 percent for subsidies and other help for farmers; 12 percent for rural development, research and energy programs; and about 9 percent for conservation programs to protect the land...

Just a few of my thoughts! For more information, please contact me: Will Yliniemi, Hubbard/Becker County Extension Educator at 1-218-732-3391, 1-218-846-7328 or by cell at 1-218-252-1042, or by e-mail at:

Upcoming workshops and ag events

-- Private Pesticide Applicator Workshops for PPAT License Renewal: Jan. 24, 10:30 a.m., County Office Building, New York Mills; Jan. 31, 12:30 p.m., Alexandria Holiday Inn; Feb. 4, 1 p.m., Hawley Community Center, Hawley; Feb.15, 9 a.m., Government Services Building, Fergus Falls. For more information, contact Phil Glogoza, 1-888-241-4527.

-- Central Minnesota Irrigation Clinic & Annual Meeting: Jan. 31, Park Rapids. For more information, contact Will Yliniemi, 1-218-252-1042.

-- Forage Day - A Workshop for Livestock and Forage Producers: Feb. 12, 9 a.m., Detroit Lakes Holiday Inn. For more information contact Doug Holen at 1-888-241-0843, or Will Yliniemi at 1-218-252-1042.

-- Pasture Irrigation - A Workshop on Irrigating Pasture for Dairy: Feb. 19, Pelican Rapids Public Library; Feb. 26, Wolf Lake Lions Hall. For information contact Will Yliniemi at 1-218-252-1042, or Vince Crary at 1-218-385-3000.