CANNON FALLS - Farmers from throughout Minnesota gathered at the Artisan Plaza to discuss farming, hardships that they face, and possible solutions to the industry's past, present, and foreseen problems. The conversation was hosted by the Minnesota Farmers Union on Friday, April 26.
Local politicians or their office staff were in attendance, including U.S. Angie Craig and representatives from U.S. Sens. Tina Smith's and Amy Klobuchar's offices.
Those in the crowd had about 90 minutes to air concerns and ideas. Once the first couple of speakers broke the ice, there were no pauses between people suggesting changes to the industry and markets.
Arlo Hark is a relatively young farmer in Dakota County.
"One thing that I am really concerned about is access to land for young farmers," he said, going on to tell the full room, "There's a lot that can be done to improve access for people like myself, and for people that are not like myself, that are trying to get into farming."
He concluded his allotted three minutes with the microphone by stating that it can be hard for a start-up farmer to buy a few acres of land when "huge developers" also want the land.
Lori Ann Clark, a resident of Cannon Falls and member of a farming family, focused on the relationship between banks and farmers.
Clark stated: "We also need to deal with the banks, and we need to deal with investment and consolidation, because the banker doesn't care whether you're a small family farmer owning that land. Because he knows he can always sell it to another investor if you go down. And that's a big, big problem."
There is not a perfect solution. Mike Peterson, a Rice County farmer, complicated the conversation by talking about the relationship between crop and livestock producers: "If we control our supply and get the price of corn back up to $4.50 ... our soybeans in that ten dollar range, what are we going to do to our livestock producers?"
Peterson said that prices that would help him as an agriculture farmer would be bad for his friends who work in the livestock industry. He suggested the possibility of the government subsidizing the price of feed for livestock so that crop farmers still receive a fair profit from their work and livestock producers won't have their potential profits eaten by feeding their animals.
One of the last people to speak was Kirsten Vanderpool. The college student focused on the high rates of suicide amongst farmers throughout the country. Vanderpool told those gathered that the best way to prevent farmer's suicide it to pay them fairly.
"I don't think any of us have gotten into agriculture for the money, we do it because we love it. So, telling us to call a 1-800 number when you're feeling suicidal or go get a different job because you can't afford to pay your bills anymore, it's not going to make you happier. Fixing the agriculture economy and giving a farmer a paycheck so they can do what they love and provide for their family and for the state and for the county and for the world. ... Nobody I know that's contimplated suicide says 'I'm going to call the 1-800 number.' They're going to leave a note, and they're going to do it."