On the third day of her 2019 Farm Tour, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, R-4, made a visit to State Fair Community College on Thursday to meet with students, college administrators, staff and agribusiness leaders. Hartzler was there to discuss the role of agriculture both locally and on a national and international level.
After touring the college’s ag facility in the Potter Ewing Center, Hartzler, who serves on the Agricultural Committee in the House, spent an hour discussing concerns from those in attendance. She also provided information regarding trade issues and legislation that will impact area farmers and ranchers.
“I am one of the few members of Congress who still lives on a working farm,” Hartzler told those gathered. “Farming can be hard but it is still a good way of life.”
Hartzler said things look “pretty good” despite market prices, which she characterized as “terrible.” Hartzler noted this is due in large part to trade disputes with both South American nations such as Brazil as well as conflicts with China.
“The Chinese government has been doing all kinds of nefarious things for a long time,” Hartzler said. “They want to be the dominant power in the world both economically and militarily.
“It started with agricultural products which have been really tough,” she continued. “We hope to come to an agreement sooner rather than later and I am encouraged that will happen as long as we keep talking.”
Plans are in place for a portion of the $27 billion in Chinese tariffs once coming to the United States to be funded back to farmers under the Market Facilities Program. Under the plan, individuals can receive payments based on their acreage or number of head of livestock they raise.
Hartzler also discussed the pending trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
“It’s important that we lock down and maintain our partnership with both nations,” Hartzler commented. “It is such a positive and right now we are waiting on Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi to bring it up for a vote, hopefully in October.”
Hartzler added she thinks there is enough bipartisan support for the bill to pass not only by those in the agricultural sector but also in the automobile industry. She commented the legislation could potentially create as many as 176,000 new jobs if approved.
Other nations are beginning to purchase more American farm products, according to Hartzler. The European Union is tripling the amount of American beef purchased and Morocco recently agreed to purchase $80 million in U.S.-produced beef and beef products.
While it is too early to tell the effects of heavy rains on Missouri’s agricultural markets for this season, those concerns were chief among the questions asked of Hartzler during the roundtable discussion.
Agri-businessman Hank Thomas of Van Diest Supply Company told Hartzler one of the biggest challenges faced by farmers is the river flooding and resulting conditions.
“We need urgency from the Corps (of Engineers) to get the levees fixed,” Thomas explained. “Right now portions of (U.S. Route) 65 are still closed. That’s a main thoroughfare for our farmers and it will hurt corn growers especially at harvest if they aren’t repaired.”
Hartzler agreed and responded that the recently passed disaster bill passed by Congress will address some of the concerns but according to the Corps it may take two or three years to repair some of the damaged levies.
Josh Lindermann, Branch Manager for Ag Co-op Services in Sedalia, commented many of his clients appreciate and are happy to see the work being done to stabilize and increase farm prices but “we (farmers) can only tread water for so long.”
Hartzler sympathized with Lindermann’s remarks expressing her belief “farmers need a plan, they need some certainty. I do believe the system works but sometimes it doesn’t as fast as I would like.”
Prior to the round table discussion, Hartzler toured the classrooms and greenhouses of the college’s ag department.
SFCC Agricultural Instructor Brad Driskill informed Hartzler the department has 160 students enrolled and 100 to 110 of those will transfer to four-year colleges or universities to complete their degrees.
“We have a 100% placement rate with our students,’ Driskill commented. “We get calls all the time from individuals hoping to hire our students to go to work for them.”
Hartzler noted the average age for a farmer in the state is 57. Keeping young men and women involved in agriculture and returning to family farms is a concern.
When discussing the Five Year Farm Bill, Hartzler commented the legislation is often misunderstood.
“Eighty percent of the money in the bill goes programs such as SNAP and WIC,” Hartzler explained. “Very little — only 20% — goes to rural America and farmers.
“That money isn’t a handout but rather an investment to try to ensure our food remains both affordable and of the highest quality,” she continued. “Everyone needs to make sure American farmers remain viable so we don’t become dependent on any foreign nation.”