By Deb Gau, Marshall Independent 

MARSHALL — There’s a lot going on in agriculture in southwest Minnesota – and this week a group of U.S. lawmakers were trying to learn about it firsthand.

“I think it just helps them better understand, when we all go back to D.C., what’s really going on,” said U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach, during a visit in Marshall on Tuesday morning.

Fischbach was one of the members of the Congressional Western Caucus who visited the area Monday and Tuesday as part of a field tour focused on agriculture.

“The Western Caucus is a group of over 100 members of Congress and their staff, and they come together and kind of expose everybody to different places in the country and the issues that we’re facing,” Fischbach said. “So we’re showing them what’s going on in Marshall.”

The group heard about the impact that farming and agribusiness had on southwest Minnesota, but also the need for employees, and resources like housing and child care.

“We’re trying to address the issues we can,” Fischbach said. She said addressing housing needs was one task she was working on in Congress.

Fischbach, who represents Congressional District 7, was one of three Minnesotan members of Congress on the tour. The group included Rep. Brad Finstad of CD 1, and Rep. Pete Stauber of CD 8 in northern Minnesota. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa was also part of the tour group.

Stops on the tour Tuesday included the Archer Daniels Midland plant and the CHS fertilizer plant in Marshall, as well as tru Shrimp in Balaton.

Each site the tour visited had an impact on agriculture in the region. ADM plant manager Eric McVey said ADM employs 250 people in Marshall, and buys corn sourced from within a 50 to 60-mile radius. The plant makes a wide variety of corn products, from corn oil to sweeteners and starch.

CHS is a cooperative that employs around 10,000 people nationwide, said Brian Meier, senior sale representative at CHS in Marshall. The Marshall location is part of a regional business unit based in Brandon, S.D. Locally, the coop has about 5,000 individual customers and 1,500 to 2,000 core agronomy customers, Meier said.

In Balaton, tour members learned how tru Shrimp developed a way to raise shrimp in shallow indoor tanks. Tru Shrimp president and CEO Michael Ziebell said the company not only produces shrimp, but shrimp protein for use in pet food, and chitosan, a product made from the shells of shrimp. Chitosan has medical and pharmaceutical uses, and will be a major source of revenue for tru Shrimp, Ziebell said.

During the tour, area residents also talked about some of the challenges that agriculture and agribusiness faced. Employees were one important need, McVey said.

“It’s hard to get people,” he said. “Rural population is decreasing.” McVey said ADM was currently short about 18 employees in Marshall.

“We need people coming into agriculture,” Meier said at the CHS tour stop. Meier said agriculture has changed over the years, with workers’ roles becoming more and more specialized.

McVey said a lack of housing and child care were also issues that affected the ability to attract workers in rural Minnesota. “(Child care) costs a lot, and it’s hard to get. And that’s a problem,” he told the tour group.

Fischbach said some of the concerns raised Tuesday, like workforce and housing needs, are ones that are voiced a lot.

“Housing is one of the things that we’re looking at,” she said. In July, Fischbach and Finstad were among the representatives who introduced the Investing in Rural America Act. In a news release announcing the bill, Finstad said the legislation would strengthen farm credit institutions’ ability to partner with local lenders on projects like community facilities.

“We’re trying to get more capital into rural areas so that we can build more, so that there’s more available money, there’s things that they can do,” Fischbach said Tuesday. “One of the things that is a huge concern for me is housing. There’s not that middle kind of market-rate housing out there, and that, I think, is from top to bottom of my district. So we’re trying to find ways to help with that.”

Issues like child care were complex to address, Fischbach said.

“A lot of child care is handled at the state level, so it’s a little more difficult, and it’s actually then regulated on the county level. But we’re looking for maybe creative ways” to help, she said. “The bill we’ve got, they could use it to open child care, if they needed that capital for childcare centers. That, I think will help to open things up.”