WILMOT, S.D. — A federal safety net for farmers is likely to continue under the Biden-Harris administration, but it will be different, says a former Democratic state legislator and farmer from South Dakota.
The new era seems unlikely to be in the form of huge ad hoc payments paid out in the past two years, says former South Dakota Rep. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot.
Frerichs, 36, and his brother, Aaron, are the primary operators in a crop-share arrangement with their parents, Kent and Faye, and other land owners. They farm in Roberts and Grant counties in northeast South Dakota.
Each of the Frerichses have their own individual proprietorships. Among the families, they cover about 9,500 acres of tillable ground, under the Frerichs Farm, or Frerichs Family Farm names. They raise corn and soybeans, including some soybeans for seed. They work in spring wheat in rotation with soybeans on some of the more marginal acres. They put up some grass and alfalfa hay. Jason has a 200-cow spring- and fall-calving partnership with another brother, Ryan, who works at the Poet ethanol plant about 25 miles away at Big Stone City, S.D.
Much of Frerichs' 2020 crop is in the bin and the current focus. In late November he was evaluating delivery months and other factors. Looking ahead, there are opportunities to market crops in 2021, with at least some profit.
“It seems as though we’re in a new era. It’s taken a long time to get here. I’m hoping it lasts, that it’s not short-lived,” he said.
Frerichs thinks it’s significant that ag commodity markets didn’t crash when Biden’s victory became clear. He hadn’t priced any 2021 crop but said he isn’t going to wait too long.
“I want to be in a position to sell ahead in relation to my crop insurance guarantees, the yields we have established,” he said.
While farmers largely voted for Trump, Frerichs takes Biden at his word that “he’s going to be a president for all of us, regardless of whether that state supported him, or whether that demographic voted for Joe Biden. He’s for all of us.”
Farmer with ‘D’
Frerichs is a rare Democrat in a farming career associated with conservative Republicans.
Starting in 2009, at 25, he was elected to the South Dakota State Legislature. A Democrat, he served two years in the state House of Representatives, and then eight years in the Senate. For four years he was the minority leader. He served on the agriculture committees and was active on issues relating to strengthening agricultural research at South Dakota State University, particularly the Animal Disease and Research Diagnostic Lab, and Precision Agriculture building.
Frerichs “termed out” of the Legislature, in part to raise their young family with his wife, Ashley.
He is a member of the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council board. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue appointed him to the United Soybean Board.
In the presidential election, Frerichs helped some with “get-out-the-vote” phone calls to Democrats in Iowa.
He thinks farmers will be pleased with Biden, describing him as a “sure voice, when it comes to looking out for farmers.” He said Biden will support the trade policies farmers have been working on for decades. He trusts that the Environmental Protection Agency, under Biden, will cease providing waivers to refineries and will stop the “dismantling” of the ethanol industry that was apparent in the Trump administration.
Here are some other specifics:
Cattle markets. Frerichs is interested in whether a new attorney general might take on the big four multinational corporations that dominate the U.S. meat industry. He thinks key cattle groups are starting to agree on anti-trust concepts. “Maybe Congress will do its part to put in place a ‘mandatory minimum’ of cash trade on cattle. Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Jon Tester, D-Mont., have legislation that would require this.
Ethanol. The Trump administration Environmental Protection Agency's policies toward the ethanol industry harmed farmers financially, Frerichs said. This is big where farmers sell corn to ethanol plants that also crank out corn oil and distillers grains for livestock producers. “We know that the Biden administration will have our back in terms of ethanol,” Frerichs said.
Climate policies. Biden’s emphasis on climate change and links to the “green movement” will make sure farmers are given “full credit” and payments for practices farmers already do or could choose to do that benefit the environment. “Let’s work with them,” he said. He doesn’t think the Biden administration will “force” farmers to participate but will provide some “coordination” for testing for quality and control. He thinks farmers will be compensated for their carbon sequestration contributions. “We all know we have those marginal acres.” A perennial grass or new type of fuel source might have potential. Frerichs thinks the Biden administration will listen to farmers and will help improve their bottom line.
Regulation. Frerichs is urging the Biden transition team to avoid reprising Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulations that farmers despised as government overreach on non-navigable waters, including temporary wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region. He would also urge them to steer away from anti-animal agriculture policies. He thinks Biden won’t unfairly tax farmers, and points out that Congress would have to approve.
Insurance. He’s optimistic ag allies in Congress can maintain crop insurance subsidies and that Biden is willing to do that. He thinks it would be wise for farm advocates to keep strong connections with urban legislators on nutrition policies.
“I can’t imagine why the urban folks wouldn’t be looking at ways to limit our abilities to function out here in America’s heartland because of that animosity that’s been created with the various payments,” he said. “In the end, we just want our markets back. We don’t want to be accepting payments due to reckless actions that have happened in the past.”