WASHINGTON, D.C. [09/26/18]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, pressed the President and other top Trump Administration farm and trade officials to quickly take several meaningful steps to address the growing economic unease being felt by farmers and ranchers in Minnesota and across the country.
In a letter sent Wednesday, Sen. Smith outlined several immediate steps the President and top Administration farm and trade officials could take to open markets for farm products and provide relief to farmers hit hard by trade uncertainties and falling farm prices.
“During my recent conversations with Minnesota farmers, I have repeatedly heard concerns about how falling commodity prices and shrinking export markets are creating significant challenges for them,” wrote Senator Smith. “For instance, since June, according to one key measure, the price of U.S. soybeans has fallen 20 percent, from $10.89 to $8.68 per bushel. Hog farmers are also facing difficult economic realities. Economists calculated that from early March, when rumors of China’s initial retaliatory tariff were circulating, through May, hog producers lost $18 per hog, or more than $2 billion on an annualized basis. As harvest season begins, time is of the essence in averting the crisis facing our agriculture industry.
“Farmers want trade that is good but fair, they want to reopen closed markets, and they want the certainty that the Farm Bill provides.”
Copies of the letter were also sent to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and EPA Secretary Andrew Wheeler.
Sen. Smith fought for and won a spot on the Agriculture Committee when she arrived in the Senate in January. In preparation for the Farm Bill debate, she formed her “Farm Bill Working Group” to hear from farmers, ranchers, and rural community leaders—as well as experts on nutrition, energy, and conservation—to make sure Minnesota priorities are included in the legislation. She and her staff have traveled across Minnesota to hear from Minnesotans on the state’s Farm Bill priorities.
Sen. Smith authored and championed several measures in the Senate Farm Bill, including her legislative roadmap for the energy title of the Farm Bill, her provision to expand access to much-needed broadband in rural communities and tribal areas across the country, and a provision to create a U.S. Department of Agriculture “Rural Health Liaison” who will work with other federal health officials to address rural America’s unique health care needs. The bill also funds Sen. Smith’s efforts to help younger and non-traditional farmers get started in the business, and it responds to her call to preserve the Sugar Program which supports thousands of jobs across the Red River Valley in Northwest Minnesota.
You can read the full letter here or below:
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Trump:
During my recent conversations with Minnesota farmers, I have repeatedly heard concerns about how falling commodity prices and shrinking export markets are creating significant challenges for them. For instance, since June, according to one key measure, the price of U.S. soybeans has fallen 20 percent, from $10.89 to $8.68 per bushel. Hog farmers are also facing difficult economic realities. Economists calculated that from early March, when rumors of China’s initial retaliatory tariff were circulating, through May, hog producers lost $18 per hog, or more than $2 billion on an annualized basis. As harvest season begins, time is of the essence in averting the crisis facing our agriculture industry.
While recent trade policies have played a significant factor in causing the crisis facing many Minnesota farmers, there are meaningful steps you can take that would benefit farmers in Minnesota and across the country and mitigate some of the harm caused by the recent trade disputes. All of the below policies have bipartisan support in Congress, and I stand ready to work with you on any of the following options:
- Open New Markets and Promote American Exports. In 2015, as Lt. Governor, I led a trade delegation to Cuba to promote Minnesota exports, and I believe it is critical for U.S. producers to be able to sell American products to Cuba. I urge you to lift restrictive trade rules that have prevented American farmers from exporting their goods to this key market. Further, I urge you to explore new export promotion opportunities, such as supporting efforts to increase turkey exports to India.
- Strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Two items related to how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently interpreting the RFS are bringing hardship to Minnesota farm country. First, the EPA has issued many refinery hardship waivers that clearly violate the spirit of the RFS and have led to a 1.5 billion gallon drop in demand for American-made ethanol. This hits American farmers by decreasing the market for corn and soybeans; I implore you to be more conservative in the granting of waivers going forward. In addition, it is well within the authority of the EPA to grant year-round market access to E-15 blends. Such a move would expand new markets for agricultural products and bring some relief during a time when our farm economies are suffering.
- Press for Passage of a Bipartisan Farm Bill. The Senate Farm Bill – which passed 86-11 – is an example of effective, meaningful bipartisan legislation. I urge you to work with the House-Senate conference committee to develop a conference report based on the bipartisan Senate passed Farm Bill. The Senate-passed Farm Bill will provide stability and certainty to farmers, ranchers, foresters, rural communities, and Indian tribes.
- Address the Grain Storage Shortage. Grain producers in Minnesota are being forced to sell their products at today’s low prices or hold on to their harvest until they can find new markets. The USDA’s Farm Storage Facility Loan Program has been important for producers in my state, offering them low-interest financing for on-farm storage. This is an important program that allows farmers to build and upgrade storage facilities with help from USDA, allowing them to pay back the loans with revenue from their sales. Many grain producers in Minnesota are due to pay back these loans in September. I have heard from many Minnesotans that they are worried about this upcoming deadline. With prices so low, farmers are worried that their ability to repay the loans are in jeopardy. Knowing the difficulties these farmers face, I urge you to explore all administrative options regarding a temporary loan extension so that grain producers can have more time to explore new markets for their crops.
These suggested actions offer an opportunity for you to show farmers in Minnesota and around the country that you are serious about addressing the crisis facing our nation’s agriculture sector. They would be a key step to mitigating some of the harm caused by the current trade disputes that have limited American farmers’ opportunity to sell to global markets.
I want to close by expressing the urgency that farmers are feeling right now. Farmers want trade that is good but fair, they want to reopen closed markets, and they want the certainty that the Farm Bill provides. I look forward to working with you on any – or all – of the above initiatives. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.