October 1, 2004: A healthy livestock farming
economy in Minnesota requires support for livestock
on family farms, strong local township government and
a tough corporate farm law, says a new report by the
Citizen Task Force on Livestock Farmers and Rural Communities.
The Citizen Task Force is a unique collaboration between
four Minnesota farm groups: Minnesota Farmers Union,
Minnesota National Farmers Organization, Land Stewardship
Project and the Sustainable Farming Association
The report, entitled "Creating a Bright Future
for Livestock Farmers in Minnesota" was released
Sept. 28 in Willmar to a group of over 200 farmers,
township officers and other rural residents. Minnesota
Attorney General Mike Hatch addressed the crowd, saying
the recommendations could go a long ways toward supporting
a strong middle class in rural Minnesota. A strong middle
class, he said, is the basis of a sound democracy.
"Diverse family farms are key to a strong rural
middle class," said Hatch. "It is extraordinarily
important to not allow continued consolidation of these
industries. If you take away township control and relegate
it to St. Paul or Washington, you take away that ability
to control what happens in the community."
The Citizen Task Force recommendations focus on ways
to increase the number and profitability of Minnesota
livestock farmers in ways that benefit rural communities
- Ensuring Fair Prices and Open Markets.
Regulatory teeth must be put into Minnesota's
law limiting corporate ownership of farms. The state
must work to enhance the development of producer-owned
processing and collective bargaining. Bob Arndt, President
of the Minnesota National Farmers Organization, said
that when farmers are able to join forces and market
collectively, they are able to keep their capital
in their communities.
"Those who control the capital in the industry,
control the industry," he said. "We want
the farmers to control the capital."
Creating the Next Generation of Livestock
Farmers. Financial incentives for getting
started in dairy farming must be provided. State
and local governments must also support efforts
to protect farmland from development and keep farmland
affordable. Doug Peterson, President of the Minnesota
Farmers Union, said too often discussions about
promoting livestock agriculture ignore the existing
farmers in the state, as well as the young people
who want to get started.
"You get more bang for your buck by targeting
your money, targeting your resources at the existing
operators," said Peterson. "We shouldn't
be ignoring the majority of farmers in our state."
- Promoting Livestock Farming that Benefits
the Environment. A bonding proposal to fund
the University of Minnesota's "Green Lands, Blue
Waters" initiative should be passed. The initiative
is working to improve the environment by promoting
perennial cropping systems, including raising livestock
on pasture. Paul Sobocinski, a Wabasso area hog farmer
and organizer for the Land Stewardship Project, said
farmers across the state are showing that they can
protect the environment while utilizing working lands.
"There are ways to make a living off the land
while farming with nature and protecting the rural
environment," said Sobocinski. "And there
are ways the government, the University of Minnesota
and consumers can encourage such systems."
- Creating Local Food Systems that Benefit
Farmers, Consumers & Rural Communities. The
Minnesota Legislature should fund the Minnesota Institute
for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) Information Exchange
program, the Alternative Swine Program and the Department
of Agriculture's on-farm demonstration grant program.
"Minnesotans want high quality foods produced
by family farmers committed to good stewardship,"
said Mary Jo Forbord, a Starbuck area farmer and
Executive Director of the Sustainable Farming Association
of Minnesota. “Consumers want to know where
their food is coming from, how it is produced, and
who is producing it. We welcome and value their
- Protecting Rural Democracy. The
Legislature must uphold the current rights of townships
and counties to enact zoning ordinances that regulate
development in their communities, including large
feedlots. La Valle, Wis., dairy farmer John Kinsman
addressed the crowd, explaining that in his state
the legislature gutted local democracy this year by
passing legislation that makes it possible for the
state to override decisions made by local townships
"I urge you not to give up local control,"
said Kinsman. "Farmers in Wisconsin did not support
this bill when it went through. This was railroaded
through so fast most local governments didn't even
know about it."
NOTE: A copy of "Creating a Bright Future for
Livestock Farmers in Minnesota" is available in
pdf format by contacting Bobby King at firstname.lastname@example.org,
or 507-523-3366. The report can be downloaded from http://www.landstewardshipproject.org
after Tuesday, Oct. 5.