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Farmers offer their thoughts on the 2012 farm bill

WILLMAR -- Managing the risk in agriculture is a common refrain when farmers gather to discuss their ideas for the 2012 farm bill.

"Risk management is a moving target," said Dave Frederickson, outreach director for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. "(Farmers) want to make sure the next farm bill focuses on risk management. There are a lot of trial balloons being floated around right now."

At a forum Monday in Willmar hosted by staff members of Klobuchar, D-Minn., local farmers had the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns on the 2012 reauthorization of the farm bill -- officially the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act.

Frederickson, a Murdock native who serves in Klobuchar's Minneapolis office, moderated the forum, attended by about 25 people.

A wide array of topics was discussed, including regulations, agricultural funding and research, direct payments and dairy policies.

Those in attendance also brought forth concerns about the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program and Average Crop Revenue Election Program, both of which were introduced in the 2008 farm bill, and both of which were described by attendees as difficult to understand.

"I think (ACRE) works if people understand it," said Steve Zenk, a farmer and farm management instructor at Ridgewater College. "It could be good, but it needs to be simplified."

At the end of the forum, Frederickson asked each person to name their biggest concerns or priorities for the 2012 farm bill in three words or less. Many farmers discussed their thoughts on simpler regulations, support for family farms and risk management strategies.

"I don't know if we can manage the risk out of agriculture, but the train seems to be on that track a little bit," Frederickson said in response to those people's concerns.

For Zach Rada, who works closely with farmers as a farm management instructor at Ridgewater College, a big priority for the next farm bill should be offering more assistance to young or struggling farmers. When it was his turn to offer his "three words" on the next farm bill, he mentioned a couple he had worked with who were trying to start a dairy farm. Even though they hadn't "done anything wrong," he said, they still probably won't make it as farmers.

"There isn't necessarily a specific program for young people to begin farming -- something that's just for them," Rada said after the forum. "I wonder if there could be an incentive for retiring farmers to help young farmers start out."

For Zenk, who doesn't necessarily have "major concerns" about the 2012 farm bill, this forum was still a chance for his thoughts as a rural Minnesota farmer to be heard.

"It's good to be able to have this discussion now," he said.

After the forum, Frederickson said that many of the issues raised in Willmar by area farmers echo the concerns of other farmers across the state.

"This gives us a sense of what people are thinking," Frederickson said. "This is a chance for individuals to speak up, and a chance for (Klobuchar) to hear from the people."

Over the course of the month, Klobuchar's staff will hold a total of eight similar forums across Minnesota.

The senator wanted to hold a forum in Willmar, Frederickson said, because the area represents "a good collection of livestock, dairy and crop farms."

"We'll be taking everything back that we hear," he said. "From here, we'll be trying to find a common theme or focus (from these forums)."

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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