Poppe: Agriculture finance requires immediate action

Published 9:46 am Saturday, May 19, 2018

Minnesota is home to 73,000 farms and approximately 109,000 farmers. According to Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) statistics, we rank fourth nationally in agriculture exports ($7.13 billion in 2016) and fifth in total agriculture production.

The importance of agriculture to Minnesotans should not be undervalued. The growth and prosperity of our farmers directly impacts our economy; when our farmers and ag producers do well, we all benefit. When they suffer, so do we.

Farmers and ranchers have been facing a tough road for the past four years. Commodity prices are low, dairy prices are non-existent, export markets are being threatened, and weather hasn’t been cooperating; all of these factors add to the stress farmers face.

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Farmers are an inherently optimistic lot. They face risks daily and can discern when to take action. This past winter, MDA sponsored six professional development workshops — titled “Down on the Farm: Supporting Farmers in Stressful Times” —around the state. The workshops provided an opportunity for professionals who work with farmers to learn from Ted Matthews, the sole mental health provider contracted by MN State to work with Minnesota farmers.

Boyd Huppert of KARE 11 recently showcased the heartbreak of losing his family’s dairy farm. He reported that 15 dairy farms go out of business every week as farmers sell their cows and relinquish their operations. We can all imagine the stress caused when faced with a life-altering decision about how and if they can keep a multi-generational farm afloat. Another alarming statistic, farmers and ranchers commit suicide at a rate five times that of the general population. For a sobering read on economics in farming, read the March 19 article in the New York Times titled “When the Death of a Family Farm Leads to Suicide.”

Holding a Master of Science degree in counseling myself, I can attest to the importance and benefit of having access to supportive services before, during, and after stressful times. Because of my personal commitment to increasing awareness and access, I sponsored HF 2896 to provide funding which would double the number of mental health counselors (from one to two) and increase funding for farm advocates engaged in directly helping farmers throughout Minnesota.

Unfortunately, the Ag Finance bill was rolled into a super-omnibus bill still in conference committee and with constitutionally-required adjournment set for Monday, action needs to be taken now. Finding an additional $140,000 this year out of a $329 million surplus should take no time at all and while it doesn’t change the weather, keep open our foreign trade partnerships, or improve dairy pricing, it would help farmers face the next day and the day after that. Let’s help our farmers, potentially save lives, and keep partisan politics out of agriculture.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe is the DFL-Lead on the House Agriculture Finance Committee and can be reached at the Capitol by email at rep.jeanne.poppe@house.mn or by phone at 651-296-4193.