By Dana Ferguson
MORGAN, Minn. — At the first in-person Farmfest since the pandemic, the coronavirus and its impacts hardly came up during a conversation about some of the biggest challenges facing agriculture.
Instead, lawmakers and ag industry leaders on Tuesday, Aug. 3, said Minnesota farmers need to start preparing for additional climate conservation measures likely set to come online soon. And they urged policymakers to ensure that farmers will be up for financial supports to make those sustainability and conservation measures a reality.
Climate experts have called for a broad-based reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to slow the impacts of climate change and the overall warming of the earth. And they've said carbon sequestration — the process of optimizing farming or planting to pull more harmful carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere through plant photosynthesis — could aid efforts to slow climate change.
"These challenges are going to be with us moving forward, the focus should be on a farmer-driven solution," National Farmers Union President Rob Larew told dozens of farmers, vendors, nonprofit leaders and others at the annual farm show in Morgan, Minnesota.
Minnesota agriculture industry leaders on Tuesday said farmers should be at the table driving the discussions. And they urged elected officials to avoid mandates around the sustainability changes, and instead push for credits and additional financial supports for those who take on the changes.
“If we're going to ask farmers to do more, we need more dollars to do it," former U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Bill Northey said, noting additional policy around farming and conservation shouldn't tie those incentives to other insurance funds. “Don’t mess up crop insurance."
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall along with several industry leaders at the table, agreed that carbon sequestration and other conservation measures would be central to agriculture policy moving forward, but he said farmers already taking those steps should get credit for their work.
“If we have to do carbon, if we have to do climate support practices and it’s going to benefit everybody in the world, the world needs to help us pay for those programs,” Duvall said. “We’re not the problem, we’re the answer.”
U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer, a Republican representing Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, and Michelle Fischbach, a Republican representing Minnesota's 7th Congressional District, said they'd take the feedback back to Washington. Fischbach said she'd press colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee to keep their opinions in mind.
Legislators and experts on the panel also raised concerns about a pinched labor market and proposed tax rate hikes that could pay for a proposed federal infrastructure package. Two GOP lawmakers in the group and Duvall said they hoped that the September end date to the enhanced unemployment insurance benefit could bring more people back into the workforce.