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Farm Bill not only issue facing ag industry

Hoeven, Armstrong speak at Minot roundtable

Jill Schramm/MDN Sen. John Hoeven, left, and Congressman Kelly Armstrong discuss the Farm Bill and other agricultural issues at an agriculture roundtable in Minot Wednesday.

When it comes to agriculture, the next Farm Bill isn’t the only issue impacting the American farmer, as became evident at a roundtable with Congressman Kelly Armstrong and Sen. John Hoeven in Minot Wednesday.

Topics ranging from government regulation to the Southern border came up at the agricultural forum hosted by the Minot Area Chamber EDC.

Armstrong said the issue he hears most about is the difficulty in finding farm workers and the problems with the H2A temporary agricultural workers program.

“The political reality in D.C. on legal immigration is impossible to maneuver through until we get our Southern border under control,” he said.

Hoeven agreed.

“We’ve got to shut down this border,” Hoeven said. “This administration will not do it. What we need is to force them to enforce the law.”

Hoeven supported merit-based immigration rather than chain-based migration, which is what is occurring at the Southern border.

“That helps small businesses. That helps farms. And then we can’t have this regulatory blizzard. Right now, the administration has put forward, essentially, a proposal we are trying to defeat using the Congressional Review Act that says every job on the farm is a different job and you have to pay a different wage scale for every job,” Hoeven said.

“What they really want is just to hit the top level wage rate and then just force you into that the entire time,” said Armstrong, who shared similar concerns about bureaucratic regulations. “Not only do we need to have more (workers) and make sure we can compete at the wage level, but we just can’t have it get harder and harder and harder every single time for a small operation to do.”

Minot-area farmer Travis Zablotney said he appreciates the effort in Congress to address the H2A program.

“It’s actually a bigger issue than the Farm Bill itself,” he said. However, he also raised a common concern among farmers about compliance with conservation programs as a prerequisite for crop insurance.

“There’s a lot of good work that farmers are doing to make their property more productive – their own personal property,” Zablotney said. “They do understand the strings that come attached to the program, but it is a control mechanism that we would like to see go away.”

The most recent five-year Farm Bill was extended a year while negotiations continue on a new five-year Farm Bill. The 2018 bill cost $428 million, with an expected final 10-year price tag of about $867 billion, according to Hoeven’s office. It is expected the next Farm Bill may be the first trillion-dollar Farm Bill, at an estimated $1.51 trillion over 10 years, mostly driven by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

The Farm Bill has 12 sections, covering commodities, conservation, trade, nutrition, credit, rural development, research and education, forestry, energy, horticulture, crop insurance and miscellaneous issues.

The Minot crowd also asked about exports of liquefied natural gas, which the Biden administration has placed on hold.

“This is all an assault on everything we do to produce the things the world needs,” Armstrong said. “It’s coming against ethanol. It’s coming against diesel. It’s coming against oil. It’s coming against coal. It’s going to affect everything we do every day, and we have to continue to figure out a way to fight it.

“It’s really problematic for what we do here, and it’s not just an energy question because it’s specifically designed not only to deal with the two industries they really don’t like, which is oil and natural gas, but on the second level, it’s designed to make fertilizer more expensive,” he added. “This fight isn’t just oil, gas and coal. This fight is in production agriculture and it’s here right now.”

Hoeven said Congress will use the Congressional Review Act to override the export pause but a two-thirds vote is needed because of the likely presidential veto.

“The nexus and the opportunities between agriculture and energy are unbelievable,” he said. “We can lead the country in terms of so many things in terms of the synergies between agriculture, energy and the technologies and precision ag and the things we are doing in energy now to lead the way forward. This is an example of a regulation that not only hurts our ability to do that in terms of producing more energy more cost effectively and creating more job opportunities in this country, it’s also a national security interest.”

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