Attendees at the meeting on the U.S. farm bill in Chatfield March 20 included, from left, two staff members of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Dori Klein, Greg Forbes, Chatfield Mayor Don Hainlen, Mark Clark and Rod Nelson. (Chatfield News photo by Lisa Brainard)
Attendees at the meeting on the U.S. farm bill in Chatfield March 20 included, from left, two staff members of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Dori Klein, Greg Forbes, Chatfield Mayor Don Hainlen, Mark Clark and Rod Nelson. (Chatfield News photo by Lisa Brainard)
Chatfield has recently played host to community meetings for U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and for staff members representing U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Walz stopped at the American Legion Room at the Chatfield Center for the Arts March 15, while three of Klobuchar's staffers stopped at the same location five days later on March 20.

Walz was on hand to talk about veterans' issues and the economy, as noted in an article in the March 21 issue of the Chatfield News.

Farm bill

The Klobuchar staff members held a meeting on what is commonly referred to as "the 2012 farm bill" - and officially titled "The Food Conservation and Security Act" - which was noted by all present as having only about 20 percent of its content actually related to the business of farming.

Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, appeared in a recorded message, which opened the meeting. She said she hoped the farm bill would pass this year and that there not be a "band-aid approach" that would extend it to 2013. She also stressed wanting the bill to maintain what she called a "strong safety net" for Minnesota's farmers.

After the video, regional outreach staffer Chuck Ackman summarized the key priorities in it: safety nets, incentives for homegrown energy production, making conservation more "workable," and cutting government red tape that can make for an undue load on farmers.

Adam Grant, who works in Klobuchar's office in Washington on ag issues, also noted she is stressing the importance of a five-year farm bill.

City speaks

Just as he had during the Walz meeting - which was general in topic and not related specifically to the farm bill - Chatfield City Clerk Joel Young spoke about issues relating to cities. He stressed the need for a healthy rural community and labor rates, saying otherwise Rochester wouldn't be healthy due to the 40,000 people that commute to it for jobs each day.

He noted that USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) programs that offer grants are very difficult to successfully compete in for small cities. For a Small Cities grant, Young said several cities have to join together to "make sense of it."

He wished there should be some type of "accountability factor" available for small cities, where the city government and elected officials know, go to church and school events, and shop with the people they represent. Young said "it's a totally different scenario" than in large cities.

Ron Zeigler of Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) - located in Chatfield and serving around 20 communities - said, "The USDA is a wonderful program. But the chances of us using it again are 85 percent against."

After the plant fire in St. Charles, he noted the CEDA facility in Chatfield had to be evaluated as part of a grant application, including "posters on the walls and weeds in the sidewalk."

He continued, "It's bureaucratic. It makes us not want to use them... It's a square box you try to fit into for the USDA."

Matt Opat brought up two issues. He said, as an attorney, it's hard to plan for moving a farm into the next generation of a family not knowing what the estate tax is.

He also stressed that children should be able to continue working on the family farm. "It's the crux of this small community. I understand the safety issue, but parents teach well and the Extension Service.

Grant replied the estate tax point "is well taken." Regarding kids working on farms, he noted it's a Department of Labor issue. However, Klobuchar had signed onto a letter for a 60-day extension on consideration of the issue, to give time to let ag youth groups weigh in on their concerns.

Mike F. Tuohy commented that in running Tuohy Furniture, his preference was to hire a farm kid. "They work and are disciplined." He stated the company's product, office furniture, is desired by large law firms out east "due to the quality of workmanship, skill and caring here."

Farm issues

Then the meeting turned to farm issues.

Mark Clark of Rollingstone was there representing Land O' Lakes. Overall concerns were "assuring a stable food supply produced in the U.S. at a reasonable cost to consumers" as well as "supporting family farms."

He urged completing the farm bill this year to bring "a reliable safety net for family farms to survive." Clark also stressed strengthening crop insurance to protect income and giving support to the Dairy Security Act.

Greg Forbes of Chatfield, self-employed with the livestock sector for 35 years, asked why it's called "the farm bill?"

"It's almost laughable. The majority is not production agriculture. I think the distinction should be made."

He spoke of the family farm going the way of large, corporate entities. One of the reasons he cited was the need to comply with water and air regulations that put some livestock farmers out of business.

Forbes also stressed the need to save topsoil with good incentives for conservation programs.

Tim Gossman of Chatfield offered one idea for a solution. He noted the government pays 60 percent crop insurance, while the farmer pays 40 percent. "It seems to me there should be some payment for that subsidy... maybe tie in certain conservation practices."

Gossman also felt the insurance subsidy was helping drive larger farms. He wondered about putting a cap at some acreage level, or having large farms pay a larger percent of it.

Grant replied Klobuchar in 2008 pushed for beginning farmers and ranchers and tried to get measures across all provisions.

Irony of "farm bill"

Rod Nelson of Chatfield was one of the last to speak during the session of just over an hour. He felt crop insurance serves "as a good safety net." As far as conservation, he said farmers do a good job. He also said, "No-till farming is the biggest bang for the buck. Effects are immediate."

Nelson said it seems silly for farmers to get direct payments when times are good. "That could be better spent solidifying the safety net crop insurance offers."

He agreed there should be more incentives to get a new generation of farmers. Also, he hoped to see more incentives for cellulosic ethanol production.

Nelson pointed out the irony that in discussing "the farm bill" that so few farmers were present. "The public needs to be aware. It's just not a handout to farmers." He estimated 20 percent of those present were farmers, much the same ratio of farm programs in the so-called farm bill.

Staffer Andy Martin said all the aspects of the bill are needed to get it all through and passed.

Forbes stated, "We lump it together... make it something all can swallow. It's absolutely ridiculous. But that's the reality of it."

Dori Klein, a field staff representative with the Minnesota Farmers Union, concluded, "The education piece becomes very important. Most don't understand that farming is a very small part of it."