Lewis fields trade, farm bill questions
ZUMBROTA — From soybean exports to building a border wall, Goodhue County Fair attendees asked U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis a series of questions during a roundtable discussion Wednesday morning.
“What do we do when our prices for input are based on domestic prices and our commodity prices are really based on global prices?” asked Naomi Kvittem, a dairy advocate from Zumbrota.
Kvittem was one of three panelists with agriculture backgrounds. Others included former dairy and crop farmer Dick Nystuen from Kenyon Township and Brad Hovel, a pork, beef and soybeans producer from near Cannon Falls.
Lewis told Kvittem that the Farm Bill recently passed by the U.S. House and currently being examined in the Senate includes improved subsidies in the Dairy Risk Program to help dairy farmers compete on the global market.
“We did up the floors on some supports for the dairy programs,” Lewis said. “That was the only thing in the Farm Bill that we changed substantially because (dairy) income is down 19 percent this year alone.”
Lewis told the crowd of about 25 people that the United States runs trade deficits in agriculture with many countries, and it can be hard to compete overseas when the input costs for farmers are so high due to environmental regulations in the U.S. vs. other countries.
“In fairness to the administration, and I think what they are trying to say is, when we get out from under this we’ll have a better deal that addresses your concerns so that those low inputs can’t undercut our domestic production,” he said.
Hovel, a soybean farmer and member of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association board, said the soybean farmers are concerned about Chinese tariffs being placed on soybeans.
“They’re going to need to buy our beans eventually,” he said. “There’s going to be more markets opening for our beans if China’s not going to source them for us because there’s only so many soybeans in the world.”
Hovel said he hoped the Farm Bill would include provisions to get foreign access through the market access program.
Lewis responded, saying the administration’s trade representative has indicated the U.S., Mexico and Canada are closer to a new NAFTA deal.
“The tough one is China,” Lewis said. “About $25 billion in bean exports, and about half of that goes to China. So, we’ve got that big market ... but they’ve got no other place to go for their beans, and the administration knows that.”
Nystuen said that despite the problems it is causing for farmers, he’s glad President Trump is working to end the trade imbalance, and he sees the tariff battle as part of that process.
Reading questions from the audience, former Minnesota House Speaker Steve Sviggum asked about the president’s promise to provide $12 billion in aid to farmers to offset the damage from the tariff wars.
“The president has leeway to do that through commodity credit programs,” Lewis said. “I think it’s the right thing to do at this particular juncture because as we’ve heard today, these folks here in the audience are willing to do what’s right for the country, what’s right for Minnesota in the short term, but they need some long-term help, and that’s the goal of this ‘art of the deal’ if you will.”
One audience member told Lewis the southern U.S. border wall needs to be completed.
Having just returned recently from San Diego, Lewis said the border is “out of control” with immigrants illegally crossing into the U.S. “If we don’t get this done, we’ll have another DACA crisis, another family separation crisis as far as the eye can see,” he said. “We are all for fixing DACA, we are all for fixing family separation, but you’ve got to have border security with that, or you relive it again and again and again.”
On other issues, Lewis said the following:
Health care: “It’s the last thing we need to accomplish before we see this economy really start going,” Lewis said. “We’ve got to go back to a system where people can buy the kind of coverage that they need.”
Support for police: “The best thing we can do for law enforcement is give them the benefit of the doubt when they have to make a split-second decision.”
Medicare for all: “Medicare will be broke in eight years,” he said. “Expanding the program to everyone would exacerbate the program so it’s bankrupt tomorrow.”
Term limits: “You’re on the campaign all the time,” he said, adding he would support some term limits for members of Congress.