MORGAN, Minnesota — A cross section of experts covered everything from conservation and sustainability to crop insurance and ag concentration during Minnesota Farmfest 2021, giving Minnesota farmers a farm policy update and a look ahead at what the future might hold for the next farm bill.

Farmfest 2021 ran from Aug. 3-5 in Redwood County, Minnesota. The event, as is typical, drew big-name politicians and farm group leaders to the Gilfillan Estate.

Farm group leaders who spoke at the farm policy forum were in agreement the next farm bill needs to continue to provide food security for consumers and a safety net for farmers.

Zippy Duvall said crop insurance and risk management programs are the cornerstone of U.S. farm policy during a farm policy forum at Minnesota Farmfest on Aug. 3, 2021, near Morgan, Minnesota.
Michelle Rook / Agweek
Zippy Duvall said crop insurance and risk management programs are the cornerstone of U.S. farm policy during a farm policy forum at Minnesota Farmfest on Aug. 3, 2021, near Morgan, Minnesota. Michelle Rook / Agweek
“The centerpiece, or the cornerstone, I guess you would say, of the farm bill is our risk management programs, crop insurance; we've got to make sure we protect that,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall.

However, former U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Bill Northey said that doesn't preclude some type of disaster program to eliminate the need for ad hoc assistance.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“What do we do in years like this, when we've got a whole lot of producers that all they get is crop insurance and they need a little bit more to tide them over?” he asked.

He said the test for the ag committees will be trying to find additional dollars for these programs.

Collin Peterson, center, is the former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and represented Minnesota's District 13 for decades in Washington, D.C. Peterson, flanked here by Mark Dorenkamp of Brownfield Ag News and Don Schiefelbein of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, gave his opinions on the formation of the next farm bill during Minnesota Farmfest. Photo taken Aug. 4, 2021, near Morgan, Minnesota.
Michelle Rook / Agweek
Collin Peterson, center, is the former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and represented Minnesota's District 13 for decades in Washington, D.C. Peterson, flanked here by Mark Dorenkamp of Brownfield Ag News and Don Schiefelbein of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, gave his opinions on the formation of the next farm bill during Minnesota Farmfest. Photo taken Aug. 4, 2021, near Morgan, Minnesota. Michelle Rook / Agweek
Former House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson said there is growing talk about a permanent disaster program prior to the 2023 farm bill. Peterson has been talking with current House Ag Committee Chair David Scott about it but doesn’t think there is an appetite in Congress for this type of move.

“I worked on that when I was chairman, but it’s pretty hard to figure out how to that without undermining crop insurance,” he said.

Peterson doesn’t think additional ad hoc disaster assistance or a permanent program is sustainable either.

“At some point it’s been four years of disaster programs and that are not being paid for by either the government or the farmers and I just worry about whether that’s going to come back to haunt us. If we’re going to have some type of standing disaster program some of its going to have to be paid for by the producers, you can’t just give it away,” he said.

The new farm bill will also put a new emphasis on the conservation title, and National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said those programs must be voluntary.

“Whether it is on working lands or if there is some room for a (Conservation Reserve Program)-type contract or even shorter-term contracts. So, folks can look at getting those conservation program benefits but also looking to the market for signals,” he said.

Larew said they also hope Congress will deal with ag concentration in the next farm program as it has been especially detrimental to the cattle industry.

National Corn Growers Association vice president Tom Haag said it will be a real challenge to work with a mostly urban House Ag Committee and mostly new leadership to craft a farm bill.

“We got Sen. (Debbie) Stabenow back on the Senate side but on the House side we have two new individuals that, yeah, they were on the committee, but they weren't in the position they are in now,” he said.

Collin Peterson expects conservation to be a major component of the next farm bill. Photo taken Aug. 4, 2021, near Morgan Minnesota.
Michelle Rook / Agweek
Collin Peterson expects conservation to be a major component of the next farm bill. Photo taken Aug. 4, 2021, near Morgan Minnesota. Michelle Rook / Agweek
Peterson sees much of the money in the next farm program going towards climate change and the establishment of a carbon program. However, he thinks that will be very complicated. Plus, there is no good way right now to measure the carbon and that will make it even more difficult to come up with a value or pay farmers what it’s worth.

“I’ve been cautioning people to slow down because we don’t know how to measure carbon and until we can figure out something that everyone agrees on, in terms of what is actually being sequestered and whether it actually stays there or not, it’s going to be pretty hard to do anything,” he said.

Peterson has been advising farm groups to work together to come up with a system for measuring carbon they can all agree on.

“You need to figure out how much carbon your crop is sequestering and how much of it actually stays in the ground,” he said.

Farm group leaders say they'll soon be gathering input from their members and developing policy to take to Washington to help shape the farm bill.