LSP Farmer-Members Demand State Policy Reforms, Investigations
MANKATO, Minn. — Public officials need to take immediate action to address the farm crisis that is decimating Minnesota’s rural families and communities. That was the message farmer-members of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) conveyed to state Commissioner of Agriculture Thom Petersen and Attorney General Keith Ellison at a special farm crisis forum today in Mankato.
“We need to turn this crisis around quickly,” said Canton, Minn., dairy farmer and LSP member Bonnie Haugen. “We are risking losing the backbone of rural America — our family farms.”
During the past several months, hundreds of LSP members have been meeting across the state to discuss how to address the economic crisis that is plaguing the farm community. LSP farmer-members and other rural residents have developed a list of demands for public policy changes to address the crisis as it relates to market access, credit availability, consolidation, mega-mergers, healthcare, support for struggling farmers and the structure of cooperatives.
The demands for action include:
1) State officials must strengthen the Minnesota Farm Advocates program so farmers know their rights. Minnesota needs to double the number of Farm Advocates to meet Minnesota farmers’ needs. In addition, the Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG) needs funding to support the training of Farm Advocates and to provide legal resources to farmers in financial trouble.
2) The Minnesota Attorney General’s office must use its authority to investigate farmer-owned cooperatives that have turned their backs on the farmers who created them.
3) Farmers need accessible opportunities to restructure loans.
4) Minnesota must put in place a moratorium on massive dairies over 1,000 animal units.
5) Bold steps must be taken by the Governor and the Legislature to ensure affordable, quality healthcare is available for farmers and other rural residents.
Participants in today’s meeting see this year’s Minnesota state legislative session as a prime opportunity to take concrete action on the farm crisis, according to LSP organizer and Wabasso, Minn., crop and livestock farmer Paul Sobocinski. Legislation has been introduced or is slated to be introduced that relates to supporting the Farm Advocates program and FLAG, providing farmers accessible opportunities to restructure loans, implementing a moratorium on issuing permits for mega-dairies, and providing affordable healthcare for farmers and rural communities.
“Farmers and their neighbors developed these demands to fight for the future of their communities,” said Sobocinski. “This does not get better unless we come together as a community and demand public policy changes that recognize the value these farms add to our communities.”
Those proposals, along with a petition signed by over 2,000 farmers and others, were presented to Commissioner Petersen and Attorney General Ellison Saturday at the Marriott Hotel in Mankato. The farmers gathered there at a time when low commodity prices, lack of access to markets and extreme weather have sent all sectors of the farm economy reeling. The 2019 median farm income for U.S. farm households was negative $1,383, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. In recent years, roughly half of farm households have had negative farm income each year, and the majority of the total income of farm families comes from off-farm sources. Dairying has been especially hard hit as mega-operations contribute to a massive oversupply of milk; Minnesota alone lost 250 dairy farms in 2019, according to the USDA.
Meanwhile, consolidation in the commodity processing sector has reached a point where economists no longer consider it a competitive situation. Minnesota agribusiness giant Cargill recently reported a profit of $1.9 billion, a 61% increase from a year ago. Dairy giant Land O’Lakes enjoyed a $207 million profit in 2019, despite a crisis that is sending milk farmers out of business at a record pace.
“What’s wrong with this picture? Plenty of money is being made in agriculture, but none of it by the farmers who support our Main Street businesses, schools and churches,” said LSP member Jim VanDerPol, who raises crops and livestock near Kerkhoven, Minn. “This crisis is not some sort of natural, inevitable evolution in agriculture. It was created by people, and it can be fixed by people.”