Heitkamp meets with area farmers
By Bryce Berginski
“Every year, you take thousands of dollars worth of risk.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D N.D.) said this to Rugby area farmers and community members in attendance of a Farm Bill and trade policy meeting last week at the Memorial Hall in Rugby, adding that farmers “didn’t sign up” when putting crops in the ground to “be collateral damage” in a trade war.
Heitkamp gave a bit of good news to attendees: That Congress wants to get the Farm Bill done on time due to disruptions in trade and to tariffs.
Dan Wogsland, executive director of the N.D. Grain Growers Association, said his organization would like to see CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) and land rental rates lowered and limits increased on Farm Service Agency loans. Heitkamp said that one reason for the limits on FSA loans was because the loan caps couldn’t be raised.
Area farmer Andy Fedje said soybeans take up a third of his field, and that he was “terrified” of the recent trade war.
Heitkamp said that North Dakota has been hit the hardest by the trade war.
Area farmer Steve Fritel inquired as to the budget implications and goal of Farm Bill language. Fritel also expressed concern about CRP, stating that new advances in technologies and practices have allowed farmers to raise crops on land that wasn’t able to be farmed 30 years ago and 30 years ago the amount of farmland in Rolette County that went into CRP “devasted the county.”
Fritel and area farmer R’Jay Paul also expressed concerns about freight and storage.
“There’s bushels out there and people trying to figure out where to put it,” said Fritel.
Paul said “it takes a while” to get crops out of the Rugby area.
“We’re in the center of everywhere, and we’re in the center of nowhere,” said Paul.
Paul also said things cost more today than when he was growing up in the 1980s and that he felt sorry for young farmers who “bit off more than they can chew.” Paul said the up to $12 billion in aid the Trump Administration announced in late July it was offering to farmers affected by the trade war was a “band-aid”.
“Twelve billion is nothing,” said Paul.
Heitkamp said that what people do not realize is a fragile economy already existed when farmers went into the growing season, and the trade war “put a 500-pound gorilla” on top of it.
“The hardest thing for a farmer is to get a crop and still not make money,” Heitkamp said.
Jim Teigen said price and production are two big concerns, and stressed the importance of funding for ag research and land grant colleges. Teigen also said he thought the government’s role was to help people and that more historians should be in government because some do not understand how things going on now affect work done in the past.
“When people say ‘short-term pain,’ it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me,” said Heitkamp.
Area resident Christie Jaeger said that while the tariffs are “awful,” crop prices “weren’t that great either,” and there is more pressure than ever from banks.
Jaeger’s daughter, Amber, who currently residents in Minneapolis, Minn., said her friends there only know about agriculture what she tells them, and that they don’t even know what the tariffs mean.
Cody Melgaard of Merchants Bank said, in regards to debt farmers take out, that “at the end of the day, we pay for it too.”
Pete Burgard of Merchants Bank said that he sees both sides as both a farmer and a bank employee, and that he would like to see an incentive for young farmers to rent non-CRP land.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, was discussed as well. Area farmer Tim Ostrem said while farming is a unique business and that he was looking for price support from the government, he also “can’t turn my back on feeding people.”
Heitkamp said the last thing she wanted was for SNAP to hold up the Farm Bill.
Some attendees also brought other concerns.
Rugby Mayor Susan Steinke brought concerns about infrastructure, natural gas and tariffs on newsprint.
Dale Niewoehner urged Heitkamp to “keep up” dialogue on Amtrak.
Heitkamp also met with administrators and toured the Heart of America Medical Center while in Rugby.
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