Redwood Falls, Minn. — Farmers dodged a steady rain as they viewed rows and rows of farm equipment at the annual show near Redwood Falls. Whether they can buy expensive new machinery might depend on the fall election. More than most groups, farmers see a direct connection between political issues and their financial well being.
Trade is one of the biggest. Farmers worry that too many foreign products are coming into this country, taking away markets and profits. At the same time they say too many nations prevent U.S. farmers from selling in their country.
There was a major trade development last weekend. After almost a year of talks, the World Trade Organization agreed on a framework for ending farm subsidies in all of the group's 147 nations. At Farmfest, 6th District Republican Congressman Mark Kennedy said the progress is good news for U.S. farmers.
"It agrees to eliminate all trade export enhancements, of which Europe has 70 times more than we do. Since our tariffs are already low, since we have Europe and Japan subsidizing much greater than us, this is a very positive framework for America moving forward and I hope that we can continue it," Kennedy said.
Kennedy's opponent, DFLer Patty Wetterling of St. Joseph, is well known for her work on child protection issues. Her son, Jacob, was abducted 15 years ago and has never been found. At Farmfest, Wetterling told the crowd she was there mainly to listen. She wanted to know what their concerns are. She said she favored more farm based energy production, like ethanol. On several questions, like the WTO issue, she said she needed to learn more so that she could give an informed answer.
"Like any other trade issues we have to look at the detail, as you said. I would have to hire a really good person to answer this question," she said at one point.
Seventh District Congressman Collin Peterson, a Democrat was not shy about tackling the issue. He says working through the WTO is the best way to help U.S. farmers. At Farmfest he said most trade agreements have been disasters for American agriculture. Peterson said he likes the idea of ending farm subsidies, but he says the WTO agreement is only a starting point. He wonders if the framework is strong enough to support a final settlement.
"The Europeans, and I've met with them many times, I think are going to give up their export subsidies when hell freezes over. One of the reasons that sugar has got a problem is that Europeans produce way more sugar than they need, they're paid 50 percent more than our farmers. And they dump that in the world market because we let them have an export subsidy so they could do it. They created a world market for six cents a pound. There isn't anybody in the world that can produce sugar for six cents a pound," Peterson said.
Peterson's opponent in the November election is Republican David Sturrock, a college professor from Marshall. Sturrock said the best way to reach a permanent agreement on subsidies may be through hard nosed political deal-making.
"I think there may be some high powered geo-politics at the negotiating rounds. To the extent that the United States can hook up with the Japanese, the Chinese, and have common interests against the Europeans we can force them to live up to those agreements and that's a major goal. And we need to keep an eye on that," Sturrock said.
Farm issues could play a major role in several races this year. Like the 7th District, which stretches hundreds of miles along Minnesota's western border. And the 1st, which follows I-90 across southern Minnesota. Farmers hope that whoever wins, they'll work to boost the agricultural economy.