ELKO, Minnesota — U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, who represents Minnesota's Second Congressional District, likes to say her district is covered by about 60% corn and soybeans.

Craig has made it a point during the tumultuous year to bring colleagues on the Ag Committee to the Second District to hear directly from Minnesota producers, and she was a participant in forums at Farmfest this year, asking producers what Congress can do to help them right now.

On Aug. 23 she was in Elko, Minnesota, at the Zweber Family Farm, to get a look at how organic dairy production is going during the drought. Craig said she also wanted to get an update on the conservation practices the operation put in place a few years ago when she last visited the farm.

Craig said she understands crop farmers aren't the only ones facing issues with the drought conditions.

"Dairy farmers have seen some of the same issues as some of our commodity producers when it comes to the drought," said Craig.

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Organic producers and other operations where livestock grazes on pastured land are finding good pasture hard to come by.

Rural infrastructure

Craig is one of the eight members who was appointed this summer to the Select Committee on Economic Disparity & Fairness in Growth. She said her job on the committee is to focus on rural communities, and she believes the best way to do that is to great good job opportunities for rural communities and make long-term investment in rural infrastructure.

"How do we build economic growth in rural communities, is what I'm looking at," she said.

The work by the select committee has just started but the goal will be to put together an 18-month process, said Craig, which will examine the current aspects holding rural communities back from thriving.

"We'll look at the issues fresh in today's day and context," said Craig. "A lack of broadband in some areas, as well as some of the consolidation that we've seen in farming."

Craig said the committee will be able to put forward policy solutions that "hopefully will help lead to greater economic growth in rural America". Rural broadband infrastructure is high on her list of priorities, and she said she's "optimistic" that Congress is going to pass an infrastructure bill.

"There's $65 billion in broadband investment in the Senate version of the bill, but personally I think it needs to be closer to 80 billion, if we're going to get 99% of the country all the way to high speed internet," said Craig. "But there's going to be a massive investment — certainly the largest investment that I have seen in my lifetime."

Anecdotally, Craig said rural areas are starting to hear more about the real estate industry shifting to their communities, where plenty of land can be developed.

"They're saying that people are looking to get a little further out from cities, after the public health crisis of the pandemic has caused a lot of people to reevaluate their lives," she said. "You could conceive a day where if you have broadband in every community, and you have an e-commerce business, you could live anywhere."

The reality would present opportunities for growth in rural areas, but also many challenges, said Craig.

"Those communities will have to think more about getting land passed on to the next generation of farmers, or is it going to be sold to developers," she said. "There's an awful lot of both opportunity and potentially some risk there."