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515coffee talk

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

GOODHUE, Minn. — A handful of people gathered around a couple tables at Doc Sawyer’s last week to hear what Doug Peterson had to say about progress on the farm bill and other farm-related policies.

Peterson, president of Minnesota Farmers Union, met with members across the state during a series of coffee talks that began April 30 and ended May 9. Attendance was good at most of the meetings, Peterson said, and bovine tuberculosis was the main topic of discussion during the northern leg of the tour.

Attendance at the Goodhue meeting was light, no doubt because farmers were in their tractors trying to plant a few acres before the next rain arrived.

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Jeanette Gorman, who attended the coffee talk with her husband, John, said their son, Bill, would have been there, but he was planting.

Jeanette Gorman, who attended the coffee talk with her husband, John, said their son, Bill, would have been there, but he was planting.

The Gormans are longtime members of Farmers Union. They are charter members of the Goodhue County Farmers Union, joining in February 1954, John said.

Jeanette said she came along with her husband because they’ve been members of the organization for years and even though they’ve retired, she retains an interest in agriculture.

So does Orion Kyllo. He’s out of farming, but he still likes to know what’s going on with farm policy and Farmers Union. They found Peterson’s talk very informative.

"He gave such a good presentation on everything," Jeanette said.

Peterson updated everyone on farm bill progress: "Not done yet; on floor next week."

He also highlighted several items from the bill. Most of the farm bill spending is targeted toward nutrition, Peterson said. Nutrition programs, including the school lunch program, Meals on Wheels and the Women, Infants, Children Program, account for 67 percent of farm bill spending. One in five Americans will need assistance from a government food program at some point in their life, he said.

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There’s money in the bill to expand commodity purchases for food banks and to expand the fresh fruits and vegetables program.

The farm bill contains real reforms, including ending the triple entity rule and requiring farm program participants to have a Social Security number in order to get a check, Peterson said. It looks like the bill will contain reduced direct payments and higher loan rates. The support level for the Milk Income Loss Contract program will rise.

The livestock title contains a Country of Origin Labeling compromise and the energy title contains a loan program for cellulosic ethanol and puts the blender’s credit for cellulosic ethanol at $1 per gallon. The blender’s credit for ethanol is now 51 cents per gallon.

The payment limits issue remains unresolved, Peterson said.

The farm bill needs to consider both the marketplace and farmers, he said. It needs to provide for a safety net and a competitive marketplace for the benefit of farmers and consumers alike.

Peterson predicted the farm bill would be completed before Memorial Day.

"I used to think the old program was difficult to understand," John Gorman said. "This is getting a lot worst."

Peterson referenced testimony given by National Farmers Union president Tom Buis before the U.S. Congressional Joint Economic Committee about how high food prices are impacting American families.

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Many are blaming ethanol for higher food prices, Peterson said, but the higher price of energy has more to do with the higher food prices than ethanol. In the last seven years, gasoline prices have increased 198 percent per gallon, he said, and diesel fuel prices have jumped almost 250 percent per gallon.

"The fuel that moves the country is diesel," Peterson said.

It’s diesel that fuels the tractors in the fields, the semi-tractors on the highways and the trains on the tracks. A recent study found that a $1 increase in gasoline results in a .6 percent increase in the food price. A $1 increase in the price of corn results in a .3 percent increase in the consumer price index for food, Peterson said.

The average price of gasoline at the pump would be 50 cents higher per gallon without ethanol, he said.

The price of food is up because the U.S. dollar is weak, there are production shortages around the world and there is increased demand for oil and food from developing countries, Peterson said. The oil companies are making sure the big bad person on the block is the farmer while they rake in record profits, he added.

Peterson straightened out a couple stories heard. One was that the price of No. 2 yellow corn raised the price of tortillas and was causing riots in Mexico. Tortillas are made from white corn, not yellow corn, he said. Another story was that beer prices were rising because the cost of corn went up. Corn isn’t an ingredient in beer, Peterson said.

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