At roundtable discussion in EGF, senator fields questions and hears concerns about tariffs, trade war, $12 billion aid package, and 'terrible' commodity prices
Hosting a roundtable discussion at East Grand Forks City Hall, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar touted the strong support for the Senate’s version of the 2018 Farm Bill, while responding to questions and concerns from a who’s who in the regional ag community on President Trump’s tariffs hurting farmers, and his $12 billion bailout to help struggling farmers get by in the short term.
“I’m so proud of the Senate Farm Bill,” the Minnesota Democrat said, citing the support of longtime U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson from Minnesota’s Seventh District, who this summer has expressed major disappointment in the House’s version of the legislation. Klobuchar also noted that 86 senators, including many Republicans, voted for the legislation, the strongest support she said the Farm Bill has received in years.
“We’re keeping commodity programs strong, dairy is much improved but not perfect, and we did no harm to the sugar program, which is a positive,” Klobuchar said.
She also noted that senators were able to trim $1 billion in costs from the $428 billion package, including in nutrition and SNAP initiatives, without “making some of these draconian cuts.”
The crop insurance safety net is poised to be stronger in the new farm bill as well, Klobuchar said. “No negative amendments were adopted, so no stray amendment got through in either (the Senate or House Farm Bill),” she explained. “We’re tightening up the program so it’s more accessible for more commodities.”
Trade, tariffs and the bailout
Many of the questions and concerns directed at Klobuchar in East Grand Forks centered on the “trade war” farmers and other industries are concerned about because of the high tariffs now in place with longtime United States trade partners. Klobuchar acknowledged that it’s a “major issue for farmers,” and she noted that she was in Canada recently for high-level meetings in the hopes of “getting NAFTA jump-started again.”
“I don’t think anyone ever saw this impacting Canada and Mexico, impacting our allies,” she said, adding that the Trump Administration’s proposal to have a five-year sunset on NAFTA is “not a good idea because most people don’t think that way.”
The senator acknowledged that there are more questions than answers right now on the $12 billion aid package for farmers across the country feeling the pain of the trade tariffs. She’s anticipating more details will be forthcoming later this month, but said determining how the money will be funneled and divided up and completing the tedious rule-making process means the money likely won’t be in any farmers’ pockets anytime soon. That means farmers who are looking at securing financing for their operations won’t be able to apply any individual aid from the $12 billion package to their balance sheets. It’s not an ideal solution, Klobuchar said.
“The real solution is getting trade agreements done and getting to a peaceful place with Canada and others, instead of these retaliatory things,” the senator said.
While the Senate Farm Bill was roundly praised by those around the table, the overall farm economy triggered the most worries from those who bent Klobuchar’s ear. She was told that it all comes down to better commodity prices, which, Bryan Klabunde of the Minnesota Farmers Union old her, are “terrible.” If there is any hope for a new generation of farmers to enter the industry with any chance of survival, she was told, commodity prices must rise. If the status quo remains, a “whole generation of farmers will be lost” because the most likely outcome will be a “huge round of consolidations” of farm operations. “It was bad before all this trade stuff, now it’s just terrible,” Klabunde added.
Klobuchar said it’s not like the federal government can simply sign off on a $12 billion bailout package every year to keep farmers afloat, when they’re being hurt by low commodity prices and a trade war launched by the current administration. “Throwing darts at our allies is not a wise strategy,” she said.