Farmers and ranchers discussed a wide variety of issues relating to the next farm bill at meetings hosted by North Dakota Farmers Union July 17-19 at Watford City, Minot, Devils Lake, Hillsboro, Bismarck and Jamestown.
NDFU President Mark Watne gave a short presentation on the farm bill and how dollars are allocated before opening it up to comments from farmers and ranchers in the crowd.
Tracy Christensen of Watford City talked about the suffering in the farm community including a higher-than-normal suicide rate.
“The rate of suicide among farmers is one of the highest in the country,” Christensen said. “In this area, we’ve had a number of suicides among farmers. That’s personal. The family farm has kept the cornerstone of the United States together. We need people talking about that, because people sure don’t want to talk about the suicide rate. I think they’re seeing hopelessness.”
Marlowe Nelson of Rugby said he feels corporations and the insurance industry align themselves to benefit from crop insurance and commodity prices before those benefits reach the farmer or rancher.
“Whenever it looks like prices will come up, the corporations are ahead of the game,” Nelson said. “They capitalize on this price, even before we get our product into the market. That’s frustrating. We’re batting our heads against the wall when trying to get better prices, because they’re already ahead of us.”
Gene Watne of Velva said the next farm bill needs to be carefully crafted, as farm country is already hurting and has been on the decline for years.
“If you think about what happened during the ’80s, we lost 10,000 farms in state of North Dakota,” he said. “We had high interest rates and other issues, but cost of production in 1980 was a whole lot less than what it is today. If you have another ‘80s come now, what you saw in the ‘80s will be child’s play. We lost 40 percent of dealerships in the ‘80s. McHenry County doesn’t have a dealership in the whole county. One small lumberyard, and one small hardware store. If you’re going to let this go so there isn’t adequate income out here in agriculture, it’s going to get a whole lot worse than in the ‘80s.”
Some members were very specific about what they wanted in the next farm bill.
Jim Teigen of Rugby said he’d like to see salinity in his fields addressed. Nearly a third of one of Teigen’s quarters is plagued by the problem, and he’d like the farm bill to allow him to plant a crop on it without affecting his Actual Production History. Salinity was a topic for multiple farmers.
Another topic was locks and dams on the Mississippi River, and the inability to get grain and other commodities down the river fast enough for shipping because of slow traffic. Dick Anderson of Willow City acknowledged that may be a better fit for an infrastructure bill, but said there’s no doubt it would benefit the farm industry.
Multiple farmers mentioned delayed payments as a hindrance for farmers, especially those young or beginning.
“When we have programs that don’t pay benefits until a year or two after the crop season is over, young farmers can’t afford to wait for that assistance,” Teigen said. “Something has to be done to address those problems.”
— Chris Aarhus, NDFU