House ag chairman

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

If elected president, Joe Biden would provide “thoughtful and measured” leadership, his supporters said during an online roundtable with farmers and ranchers.

Speakers said President Donald Trump’s tariffs and trade uncertainty have damaged prices and markets for farmers.

“His approach was punitive, abrupt and it really just threw everything upside down,” said U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, a member of the House Agriculture Committee. “What Joe Biden brings to the table — he is going to put people into place to help him make these sort of decisions so that it is well thought out.”

Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, said his state has lost two dairy farms per day — 25% of all of his state’s dairy farms — during Trump’s presidency. The rate of loss is similar across the country, he said.

“There was no plan going into those trade wars and, in the end, did we really get great deals?” he said. “From a lot of people’s perspective, yes we did, but then there’s a whole bunch of other people like myself that don’t really believe we did.”

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he is working to improve response to such animal diseases as African swine fever or foot and mouth disease.

“African swine fever, it’s not a question of if it’s going to happen, it’s a question of when,” Peterson said.

The federal Renewable Fuel Standard drives corn prices, which tend to lead the marketplace, Peterson said. Waivers given out to major fuel companies by the Trump administration have hurt prices, Peterson said.

“In southern Minnesota, we have $2.80 corn, and there is nobody that can grow corn for $2.80,” Peterson said.

Ohio dairy, soybean and corn farmer Tenah McMahan spoke of Biden’s proposed “strike force” to help growers navigate federal programs.

“Costs are rising — we pay the retail cost for everything, and what we get out of everything is wholesale,” McMahan said. “That’s a frustration point for us.”

She estimated that her farm has lost thousands of dollars in recent months due to COVID-19 and producer price differentials despite a rally in milk prices.

“Everything that a farmer produces is used and abused for trade — we have limited ability in what we do,” McMahan said. “You can’t change your acreage, the number of cows you have to milk, or pigs or lambs or whatever it is.”

Farmers need timely access to credit at a low interest rate, the ability to maintain farmland and to be able to treat their workers fairly, regardless of immigration status, said Kim Ratcliff, a Texas rancher and president of 100 Ranchers Inc., a nonprofit that promotes agriculture.

Biden’s platform meets those criteria, Ratcliff said.

Other priorities the speakers mentioned included the next farm bill and rural broadband internet development.

Pennsylvania dairy farmer Rick Telesz said Trump promised farmers the world, and they’ve received “virtually nothing.” He suspects Trump will abandon farmers once re-elected.

“I have neighbors that will back him, they’ll say it’s been the toughest two or three years that they can remember, and in the next sentence they’re saying, ‘I’m voting for Trump,’” Telesz said.

Vela said he thinks more farmers in his district are moving away from Trump because they’re tired of “chaos.”

“(They’re) ready for a sound and reasoned leader in the White House,” he said.

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