Farming and ranching are never easy occupations, but generally they come with some rewards. Lately, the rewards have been very limited to nonexistent. In fact, we continue to set ourselves back in our financial condition to the point where it has become harder to recover and harder for the next generation to farm or ranch, let alone want to farm or ranch.

It is hard for those outside of agriculture to understand the differences in farming and ranching compared to other businesses. They forget the unpredictability of the weather, the market fluctuations caused by influences (like trade wars or pandemics) that are beyond the farmer’s and rancher’s control, the monopolistic practices that control inputs/services and markets, the fact that farmers pay freight both ways to and from market and have no way to pass on costs of their operation. The United States is fortunate to have the lowest cost of food in the world per disposable income.

So, during tough times it is important to have a farm bill that can be a strong safety net to maintain our successful food production system. Our current window of time is beyond tough. It is an economic crisis and we have to work to provide economic stability to our food production system. Everything that challenges farmers has come to a head. The longtime obstacles that have been ignored for years and impeded the success of family farms and ranches are starting to be addressed.

Your organization has been working very hard to represent you through these tough economic times. The help of each of you, as members, has been extremely valuable as we develop and work for economic assistance. No program is perfect. When we started fighting for disaster assistance, we were happy to just see cash flowing. Now, we will work to find more dollars and to be more equitable and uniform in dispersing the dollars to those in need.

I am proud of our success in disaster programs, but even more proud of the successes that NDFU and its members have accomplished to help shape the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP):

Inclusion of minor oilseeds. NDFU and other North Dakota groups pushed hard to have canola and sunflowers included in the program. In developing the calculations, USDA went out of their way to find more reliable data sources for those commodities.

Use of local price. The Market Facilitation Program (MFP) never accounted for regional differences in crop prices and basis. While not an outright win, CFAP payment rates distinguish between different classes of wheat, providing a more accurate picture of regional prices.

Payment limits. The CFAP program strikes a better balance between payment limits and payment rates. The program’s payment limits are more restrictive than the MFP but looser than Farm Bill payment limits.

Regional Payment Disparities. North Dakota will get its fair share of CFAP funding. USDA estimates only about an eighth of program payments will end up going to cotton and sorghum. Those southern crops received a disproportionate share of MFP payments.

Many challenges remain – USDA’s determinations of inventory, timeline for determining payments, a few crops still with no support, unharvested crop inventories, monopolistic practices – and the fact that our farm bill is unable to solve these challenges. This forces us into a state of constant request for disaster assistance. We are already on the next round of assistance to fix inequities and future challenges.

Lessons should be learned from our trade and pandemic challenges. A large food inventory is only good if you can get it to people. Farm programs are necessary and need to be enhanced. Concentration in the marketplace cannot happen or go on unchecked without destroying the market and costing consumers. Trade needs to be done correctly and we should never start a trade war on our own.

— Mark Watne, NDFU President