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What should be in the farm bill?

Since launching her organic farming business three years ago, Angela Smith has watched as organics popularity has continued to climb.

Congressman Tim Walz, right, discusses the Farm Bill with farmer Peter Skold, of Webster, Tuesday at a meeting held at The People's Food Co-op.

Since launching her organic farming business three years ago, Angela Smith has watched as organics' popularity has continued to climb.

"People hear you are an organic farmer and you're a rock star nowadays," joked the owner of Middle Fork Farm.

But for organic farming to thrive, Smith said there needs to be major changes in federal farm policy.

"Without the feds taking a lead on some of this stuff, it's insufficient for me to go to the grocery store and make sure that everything I buy is organic. Where that (federal) money goes — those billions and billions of dollars — drives how much consumers have to pay for (organics), who has access to it," she said.

Smith joined a dozen people at Rochester's People's Food Co-op for a round table with 1st District Rep. Tim Walz on Tuesday focused on beginning farmers. Individuals invited included representatives of the Land Stewardship Project and the Minnesota Farmers Union. The meeting is one in a series the congressman is planning as work begins on the 2018 farm bill. Walz serves on the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture. The congressman announced last month he was running for Minnesota governor in 2018.


During the round-table discussion, Webster farmer Peter Skold said he would like to see more done at the federal level to encourage conservation. The owner of Waxwing Farm asked, "I'm really curious about what more we can put into the farm bill to encourage those kind of conservation things?"

Walz said he wants to see more federal dollars put into programs that encourage conservation. That includes boosting funding for the Conservation Reserve Program, which provides farmers with yearly rental payments for environmentally sensitive land that is removed from agricultural production. The Mankato Democrat said it is unfair to criticize farmers for not engaging in those environmental practices if there is no federal financial support available.

"If they have to make a choice between making money to keep their farm or choose those programs, that's a very hellish position to put them in," Walz said. "We need to ask for the budgeting dollars to compensate fairly so they can make those decisions."

The congressman also talked about his idea to expand the crop insurance program to include other crops, such as alfalfa and vegetables. He said the idea is to make sure that farmers aren't being penalized for choosing to grow something other than corn and soybeans.

"There is plenty of room in this space for traditional row cropping agriculture, and there's plenty of space in here for organics and new ways of doing things," Walz said. "That choice should be made by you. It shouldn't be made because a policy says I have to do it this way or I can't make it work."

Participants also expressed support for the beginning farmer and rancher program that Walz previously supported. Several young farmers said more needs to be done to help beginning farmers get the loans they need to buy land.

Walz said the most important thing agriculture supporters can do is stick together as the farm bill works its way through Congress.

"My advice to all of us is we need to be very, very focused on making sure we don't divide ourselves into coalitions — whether among commodity groups or ideological groups,' he said. "If we are concerned about agriculture in rural America, it's in our best interest to remain as tight as we can."


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