Montana Farmers Union (MFU) members spent this past week in Washington D.C. for the National Farmers Union Fly-In. Farmers took to Capitol Hill to advocate for multiple issues including the Farm Bill, rural health care and to talk trade. 350 Farmers Union members from across the nation attended this year’s event. Sharing first hand their experiences and hardships in rural America.
12 Montana farmers and ranchers participated in the advocacy event sharing their support, concerns, and suggestions for elected and appointed officials.
“Our representatives, whether it's in the Senate or the House, Republican or Democrat all take time to listen to us,” said Judith Gap rancher and MFU board member Ben Peterson. “They listen to those personal stories that we're able to bring, and it hits home with them. They take time and take our stories that we share and pass them on to their fellow members of Congress and that makes an impact. These things become less paper and numbers and more about people.”
The 2014 Farm Bill expires at the end of September. Farmers and ranchers want to see the 2018 Farm Bill completed before the end of the month. Currently, the Senate and House are in conference committee, combining their two farm bills into one piece of legation. A sticking point in the negotiations is the stricter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the House bill among other vital issues.
“The Farm Bill is right on the front burner and we're hearing from people that we have visited with that they are really going to try to get it out by September 30th,” said MFU President and Big Sandy farmer Alan Merrill. “We encourage our elected delegation to continue working on a positive Farm Bill. One of the things that we would like to see is a more solid safety net to support farmers during times of drought, low commodity prices and different issues like the tariffs and trade war among others. The safety net has to be boosted up a little bit more. That is one of the main issues that Montana Farmers Union and ranchers and farmers would like to see. A little more security.”
Farmers Union also wants fair trade but disagrees with how President Trump is handling the trade war.
“People are hurting across the country,” said Ben Peterson. “USDA just came out with new facts today that show U.S. agriculture exports are down twenty percent this month and last month when compared to last year. When we export eighty percent of our crop, that is hugely impactful to the state of Montana. The Trade Aid Package refunds that the federal government is trying to give for the harm the trade war is having on ag is a drop in the bucket. It's not enough, and we need to let our representatives know that, so they can do something that will make life better for Montana ag.”
It’s a busy time for farmers and ranchers with grain harvest almost compete, fall planting underway and fall calf shipping on producers minds. Because of that, the Montana Farmers Union members attending the fall fly-in are also a voice for the members that were not able to travel to Washington D.C.
“Somebody must come and talk to elected officials because if nobody does, they'll never completely understand our operations and what we're doing,” said Sarah Rachor, a farmer from Sidney. “I start sugar beet harvest a day after I get home. I should be harvesting hops right now, but I felt like this was important and I needed to be here giving a voice to the farmers in my area.”
It was apparent that the impact of the trade war on agriculture, the 2018 Farm Bill components and the overall unknown about the future of the farm economy has many Farmers Union members uneasy about the future of agriculture.
Lane Nordlund MTN NEWS