By Brent Wolfe
June 15, 1999
Part of the Minnesota Citizens' Forum series.
Governor Jesse Ventura says state government needs to do everything it can to
help Minnesota farmers and to prevent an economic collapse in rural areas. The governor participated in the first of four forums on
agriculture this summer. He says he's open to several ideas including an
anti-trust investigation of large farming conglomerates and the elimination of
the state inheritance tax.
CITIZENS GATHERED AROUND THE STATE
to pose questions about how to help farmers
weather record-low prices for grain and livestock. U.S. Farm Service Agency
state director Tracy Beckman told them they could talk about subsidies and
specialty programs all they want, but he says the real problem is that a small
number of large agri-businesses are driving small farmers out.
"Until we get serious about challenging and breaking up some of these big
conglomerates, we're simply not going to see our agriculture in Minnesota
flourish," Beckman said. "It's gotten in the hands of just a few people and, basically, they're
controlling the markets."
Governor Ventura will travel to Washington later this month to lobby for
Minnesota agriculture. When asked whether the Justice Department should begin
an anti-trust investigation of large agri-businesses, the governor didn't rule it
out. "If it's monopolizing, then certainly it should be looked at," Ventura said. "What determines a monopoly? Two competitors, four, six? At what
point is that determined? I'm not a lawyer."
|Residents in Crookston participated in the Citizens' Forum by teleconference.
Both the governor and state agriculture commissioner, Gene Hugoson, said small- and
medium-sized farmers need to be flexible and ready to take advantage of new
opportunities. Hugoson said they need to realize they probably can't farm the
same way their parents and grandparents did. "Now it may involve one or both of the spouses having some outside income for
some cushion to rely on," he said. "It may be diversifying into some new crops that we
haven't used before because this offers some opportunities to spread that risk.
It might mean going into some kind of a venture with their neighbors."
Hugoson says his department is working to develop new ways to use agricultural
products and new ways to market them. But citizens at the forum kept returning
to what subsidies or tax breaks government offers farmers.
Farmer Steve Brake of
Wilmont asked for an end to the state inheritance tax which, he says, forces the
next generation of farmers to buy their parents farm from
the state. The governor said he'd gladly eliminate the tax. "If your parents paid for something and bought it and they want to pass it to
you, I don't see what business it is of the government to be involved at all," Governor Ventura said.
Ventura said he'd eliminate the inheritance tax for all state residents. Another
farmer from Fillmore County pointed out that Minnesotans import more apples than
they grow despite ideal apple growing conditions in southeast Minnesota. He
suggested state institutions be required to purchase Minnesota-grown products.
Agriculture Commissioner Hugoson said the Legislature has avoided such a policy
in the interest of saving money.
Ventura says he hopes a task force he's convened to examine the farm economy
will build on these ideas and generate new ones. The next citizens forum on
agricultureis scheduled for mid-July.