Farm groups propose family livestock model for MN, U.S.

WILLMAR, Minnesota, 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 by:

  1. 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."

  2. 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."
  3. 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."
  4. 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 interest.”

  5. 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 and counties.

    "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 bking@landstewardshipproject.org, or 507-523-3366. The report can be downloaded from http://www.landstewardshipproject.org after Tuesday, Oct. 5.


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