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U.S. senator holds kitchen table talk with local farmers, managers, insurers



On a cloudy, muddy Friday afternoon, agricultural topics were discussed around the kitchen table at Twin Oaks farm, just east of Northfield.

Talk focused on commodities, risk management and trade, because of Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith’s new agricultural assignment as the chair of the Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management and Trade.

“This assignment gives her a platform to discuss the importance of agriculture exports for the Minnesota economy,” said a Smith staffer. “As subcommittee chair, she will be able to push USDA to do more to open up foreign markets for Minnesota ag products.”

Other topics around the Peterson family kitchen table included the changing agricultural workforce, crop insurance, high import prices, succession planning, and the need for rural childcare and mental health assistance.

Smith sat at the head of Mike Peterson’s long table, while Peterson, a corn and soybean farmer who operates a welding shop for farm equipment, sat on a high chair at the opposite end. Smith and Peterson were joined by a group of farmers, producers, lenders and ag instructors from Rice and Goodhue counties.

“The trillion-dollar Farm Bill is a must pass bill,” said Smith. “The Farm Bill is not partisan; it’s just super regional.”

Another local ag leader at the table was Gail Donkers, who raises corn, soybeans, alfalfa, dairy steers, finishing hogs and sheep near Faribault. Donkers is also a field staff for Minnesota Farmers Union.

Others included Mike and Ali Peters from Goodhue — Ali Peters works on farm insurance and assists with crop insurance; Pam Uhlenkamp, a Farm Business Management Instructor at South Central College and an active Farm Bureau member; Jeff Schultz, a Farm Business Management instructor in Faribault who previously worked as an agronomist for 10 years; Amanda Durow, a dairy and row crop producer near Hastings; Brad Hovel, who raises hogs, beef cattle, and row crops in Cannon Falls and serves as secretary of Minnesota Soy and has a hog transportation business; Brad Kluver, a third generation, independent hog producer near Northfield; Bruce Peterson, former president of the MN Corn Board with a farm just outside Northfield; and Pamela Stahlke, the Director of Risk Management Agency (RMA).

Smith asked the assembled group about crop insurance, a topic the group agreed was “an essential tool” every farmer can use.

“Leave it alone,” said Hovel. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Smith said she understands that the Farm Bill is an important opportunity for bipartisan collaboration, and with agriculture being the backbone of the Minnesota economy, Minnesota leaders need to be at the table when coming up with solutions to the challenges the industry is facing right now.

“The Farm Bill touches every aspect of life in America, especially rural areas,” said Smith.

Smith listened closely, taking notes and asking follow-up questions. Throughout this conversation, she heard a lot of concerns about how new additions to the Farm Bill could muddy existing programs that are already working well.

“That is super interesting,” she said about the Dairy Margin Coverage Program, which is an example of a successful commodity program that helps manage risk for Minnesota dairy farmers.

Another topic discussed at length was the need to make sure the tools provided by the Farm Bill are available to everyone, especially new farmers. With more demographic transition, fewer family farms being inherited by new generations once farmers make the decision to retire, Smith said she wants to find solutions for saving family farms and to make it easier for beginning farmers and more diverse farmers and farmers who might face barriers, like being a veteran, to get into the field.

“These meetings are important to the senator and her office, because she believes it’s the people who are doing the work that know best what’s working well and what isn’t,” said Jess Mueller, a press aide to Sen. Smith.

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