Crop insurance, small farm support and nutrition programs among Minnesotans' priorities for farm bill
A farm bill listening session was held in Northfield by the House agriculture subcommittee on commodities on July 25.
NORTHFIELD, Minn. — Crop producers, emerging farmers and food shelves all have a lot at stake in the next farm bill.
Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, called the farm bill the “only bill that funds rural America."
Priorities of Minnesotans to be included in the next farm bill were heard on July 25 at a congressional farm bill listening session held at Far-Gaze Farm in Northfield. Members of the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management subcommittee have been holding sessions across the country, and Monday’s stop included U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn.
Bustos said a session held last month in Arizona was all about water, and how the state will have to take land out of production because there isn’t enough of it.
“Here, we learned about the challenges of being a young farmer, and we learned that crop insurance is working and don't mess with it,” said Bustos after the Minnesota session.
Standalone crop insurance
Dan Glessing, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, echoed the statements by several farmers on July 25 about the importance of including crop insurance protections in the 2023 version of the farm bill.
“It’s a necessity at this point, with the cost of everything that we're doing on our farms,” said Glessing of crop insurance.
And he said it’s important to many MFB members that crop insurance continues to stand on its own in the new farm bill and isn’t linked to conservation practices.
“A lot of our members are talking about the fact that these conservation programs are good, but a lot of them are new, and we're trying to figure out what works in what areas,” said Glessing.
Glessing said that a recurring theme in farm bill discussions is keeping what’s working well in the current one.
“This Farm Bill that we currently have is good, but let’s make some tweaks here and there,” he said. “But let's keep that integrity, because it has worked fairly well for our farmers and for our Farm Bureau members.”
Supporting small and emerging farmers
One of the speakers on Monday was Kelsey Zaavedra, who has a five-acre farm in Chisago County where she grows heirloom vegetables and raises pastured chickens. As an emerging farmer, she said she came to the farm bill forum to talk about the challenges new farmers have with accessing land.
“A lot of young farmers are walking away from farming because we can't access land, and so I’m here today to talk about what I would hope to see in the Farm Bill regarding land access and supporting emerging farmers, young farmers, BIPOC farmers and having a policy that makes sense,” said Zaavedra.
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She said Farm Service Agency programming doesn't cater to small farms like it does to larger operations.
“You can't even fill out a form for FSA loans, because the forms are built for farms like this, and not for farms like mine,” said Zaavedra, at Far-Gaze Farm which is supported by six families and a half-a-dozen additional employees. “So it's really hard unless you have an advocate in the FSA office to really advocate, and translate for you.”
Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, CEO of the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance , used his time addressing the two congresswomen to say he was grateful for many area farmers in the room who’ve supported his eagerness for rural development.
But he said on the federal level, the support hasn’t been there.
“We really, really have to fix the whole Farm Service Agency, and how you finance farmers,” said Haslett-Marroquin. “Because for as much as we know how to do, and as good as we are at it — we have gotten zero support from the federal government.”
He said the regenerative, small-scale movement is not competing against commodity crop farms, and it supports programming that benefits larger operations.
“We need corn growers, and we need soybean farmers — we need all the farming that you see here, but it doesn't apply to us, as immigrants and small farmers,” he said.
Haslett-Marroquin said it took him 10 years to save enough money to buy into a farm in Jordan, Minnesota.
“I was literally, physically, removed from that land by discrimination by neighbors, who just didn't like that I was a landowner next to them,” said Haslett-Marroquin, who’s now farming full-time in Northfield. “We are here right now and ready to help these communities get better, and just don't have the opportunity because we have to pay for everything on our own.”
He said the FSA is a “really big key” to solving a lot of the issues plaguing innovative, emergent systems and opportunities that have been brought into American agriculture by immigrant and young farmers.
Food shelf shortages
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Emergency Food Assistance Program are big components of the farm bill. It’s projected that 76% of the 2018 Farm Bill goes to federal nutrition programs such as SNAP and TEFAP.
Anika Rychner, senior director at Community Action Center in Northfield and Faribault, said both federal programs are “incredibly important” for food shelves across Minnesota.
“Specifically here in the southeast region, we're seeing a huge shortage of TEFAP commodity food, which food shelves like ours rely heavily on,” said Rychner.
She said at Community Action Center shelves, there is about a 50% decrease in TEFAP items, which “greatly impacts” its ability to serve the community. And the people using their food shelves have increased about 50% since January, said Rychner.
“We need to increase the amount of federal commodity food that is going out into the communities in our states, now more than ever,” said Rychner. “We're facing a huge crisis right now, with other supports going away connected to the pandemic, and it's impacting our families greatly — now more than ever, we need support.”