LSP Holds On-Farm Meeting with Ranking Member of U.S. House Ag Committee as Ag Policy Debate Enters Next Stage
BARRETT, Minn. — During an Aug. 28 on-farm meeting near Barrett in west-central Minnesota, the ranking member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee agreed to fight for policy that supports working lands conservation policy and family farmers. Twenty members of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) met with U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson on Lakeside Prairie Farm, which is operated by Bryan and Jessie Simon. Peterson and other Congressional agriculture leaders are set to begin drafting the 2018 Farm Bill during the next month, and participants in the meeting called for legislation that supports care of the land, local food systems, beginning farmers and reforms that level the playing field for family farmers.
Bryan Simon described how four years ago he began converting row-cropped fields into native grasslands for rotationally grazing cattle. This transition has allowed him to develop the kind of plant system that prevents the run-off of soil and nutrients into the lake that borders the Simons’ property. Simon told Peterson that farm policy should support farming systems that protect soil and water quality, rather than subsidizing practices that cause damage to the landscape. One way to do this is through greater funding of working lands conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), he said. LSP is advocating for an increase in funding to CSP and a raise in the supplemental USDA payments that help farmers increase crop diversity and plant cover crops.
Local Harvest Market founders Joe and Sylvia Luetmer emphasized to Rep. Peterson the community benefits of supporting local food systems. Local Harvest Market is a food hub in Alexandria, Minn., that is working to connect local producers and consumers. The Luetmers set up the food hub with the belief that Minnesota can grow much of its own food. The Luetmers outlined how local producers face many challenges in competing with foreign produce because of lack of inspections of imports and the small amount of funding for local foods infrastructure.
Jim VanDerPol, who farms near Kerkhoven, Minn., shared with Peterson his frustrations with federal policy that favors the largest operations via crop insurance and other programs. Farm policy is also often biased against small- and mid-sized family farms, creating an unfair playing field, said VanDerPol. He emphasized that he wants farm programs that are about “economic justice,” not just “charity” to the largest farms.
Rep. Peterson agreed with LSP members on the need for more working lands conservation program funding, as well as support for practices that improve soil health, such as diverse crop rotations and cover cropping. He also agreed to fight to get the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program a mandatory funding stream of $50 million per year. As the 2018 Farm Bill is drafted, LSP is committed to continuing to meet with Rep. Peterson and advocating for legislation that puts people, the land and communities first.