Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate

Is Minnesota in the midst of another farm crisis?

REUTERS/Oliver Doyle
Dairy farmers have been hit particularly hard, dropping to $15,000 net farm income in 2018 from $43,000 the year prior, according to the survey.

In 2018, Minnesota farmers earned, on average, their lowest net farm incomes in decades, according to a report released Monday by Minnesota State and the University of Minnesota Extension. Net farm earnings have declined in three of the last four years.

Median net farm incomes dropped 8 percent between 2017 and 2018, from $29,022 to $26,055, the lowest they’ve been since the researchers started surveying farmers 23 years ago.

According to Dale Nordquist, associate director of the Center for Farm Financial Management at the University of Minnesota, it’s the longest string of low incomes Minnesota farmers have seen since the farm crisis in the 1980s.

Big rains, droughts and price fluctuations bring about bad years every so often for farms. But as Minnesota farmers see another year of depressed profits, some in agriculture wonder if this is another farm crisis in the making: one like the crisis in the ’80s characterized by farmer suicides, bankruptcies, and farmers getting out of the business.

The ’80s farm crisis

The farm crisis of the ’80s happened fast. Facing a wheat shortage at home in 1972, the Soviet Union signed a deal to bring $1 billion in U.S. wheat, feed grains and soybeans to their country. At the time, it was the biggest grain deal in history.

Among other factors, demand for U.S. ag products lined farmers’ pockets with cash. Land prices went up, but in order to produce more, farmers bought more and more acreage — at very high interest rates.

The increased value of farmland meant farmers could borrow more for things like seeds, fertilizer and equipment. The situation resembled the residential housing bubble in more recent memory, “where folks were using their houses as a credit card,” said Joe Mahon, regional outreach director with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. (Mahon spoke with MinnPost early in March, ahead of the media blackout leading up to the Federal Open Market Committee meeting.)

Then, in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and the Carter administration retaliated with economic sanctions and trade embargoes, which stopped imports of U.S. grain into the U.S.S.R. “We had such a huge surplus of grain. We were growing grains that had no market. We were producing too much,” said Jim Nichols, who was Minnesota ag commissioner during the crisis and is still a farmer in southwest Minnesota.

The loss of land values meant farmers couldn’t borrow as much — nor could many of them pay back the bank.

A 1985 story in Time recounted the plight of a 44-year-old Minnesota farmer clinging to his land after losing his animals and machinery because he couldn’t repay a $136,000 loan. “You really feel like a failure,” he told the magazine.

Many Minnesota farmers were in similar straits. At the height of the crisis, a third of Minnesota farms were in serious financial trouble, Nichols said. Some farmers faced crushing debt loads; others lost their farms. Suicides among farmers increased, and the effects of the crisis rippled through rural America.

More than the normal ups and downs

Today’s decline in farm incomes comes in the wake of a few broad trends. In some ways, they hearken back to the ’80s crisis.

The agriculture industry rode out the Great Recession on high crop prices. Demand was up everywhere. International markets like China and India were importing more and more from U.S. farmers, and ethanol producers drove demand for corn. In 2012, Minnesota farms saw record incomes as a drought took out crops in other Midwest states but spared Minnesota.

Median net farm income, 1996-2018
Source: Minnesota State and University of Minnesota Extension survey. Data have been adjusted for inflation.

High prices for crops like corn and soybeans enticed farmers to produce more of them. As supply rose, prices dove, Nordquist said.

Though prices have stayed low, farmers continued to produce high yields. That allowed them to make up the income lost to low prices by selling more crops overall, even if the oversupply then reduced prices further, Mahon said. “You end up with output prices that are near break-even and strong yields that offset some but not all of the effects.”

Prices haven’t been helped by a trade war. After the Trump administration put tariffs on a number of Chinese goods, China retaliated in part by cutting its import of American crops. While the trade war with China is best known for its impact on soybean growers, other trade battles (renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are examples) took away markets for farmers across the board.

Nichols illustrated the difficulties soybean farmers are facing with an example: For farmers who don’t own the land they’re farming, land might rent for $200 an acre. Seeds cost $50 an acre. Chemicals are at least $50 an acre. Machinery and labor could cost as much as $100 per acre. That adds up to $400 per acre.

The price of soybeans declined before the tariffs hit, but they’ve dropped further since the trade dispute with China. As of Monday, soybeans were trading at $9 per bushel — roughly two-thirds of what farmers were getting per bushel in 2012.

Per-bushel prices received for soybeans, 1996-2017
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Data have been adjusted for inflation.

An acre can produce about 50 bushels of soybeans, Nichols said. At $8 or $9  per bushel, a farmer can take in about $400 to $450 per acre. “To grow soybeans right now, you’re going to lose money. It’s just a cold, hard fact of life. You’re costs to grow that crop are going to be more than $400 an acre,” Nichols said.

According to the survey released Monday, crop farmers earned slightly more in 2018 than in 2017,  but are making much less than they were a few years ago.

All told, 34 percent of Minnesota farms lost money on operations in 2018, according to the survey. Slightly more — 40 percent— lost net worth after accounting for family living expenses and taxes.

Dairy farmers have been hit particularly hard, dropping to $15,000 net farm income in 2018 from $43,000 the year prior, according to the survey.

Declining demand, low prices, and oversupply were the start of their troubles, only compounded by trade disputes. Many dairy farmers have gotten out of the business, selling their herds.

State response

Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen spent the first months of the year traveling between the Capitol and pre-planting season farm events. At back-to-back appearances last week in Austin and Albert Lea, he talked with several farmers whose roofs collapsed because of snow.

Weather damage is just the latest blow. He gets reports every other week showing “sobering statistics” of how many farmers are getting notices to enter mediation with banks over defaults. He gets calls from farmers asking for help.

“A farmer calls me on Monday and says, ‘The bank told me I need to sell half my cows by Friday to make my payment,’” Petersen told MinnPost.  “You try to build it up during the good years and ride out during bad years. We’ve had too many bad years right now to have to ride out. That is a concern.”

The state is doing what it can to bolster programs that have been in place since the ’80s crisis to help farmers during bad times. The Rural Finance Authority declared an emergency and, with money freed up by legislators, will give interest-free loans to help farmers with weather-related damage.

Dairy farmers are getting the most state-level attention. In debates over legislation setting up dairy farmer assistance programs, legislators emphasized the need to get cash into farmers’ hands quickly. The new Federal farm bill includes provisions helping dairy farmers cover their margins but there’s lag time as the new rules are implemented. At the state, “We’re working at the department on some different bridges to help them get to June,” Petersen said.

A new grant program the Minnesota Department of Agriculture announced recently aims to help dairy farmers raise or maintain the grade of their milk to get better prices. Petersen said it could make the difference for some in the state. He hopes the Legislature also will pass additional funding for state farm advocates and the Farm Legal Action Group, which help farmers navigate business decisions and keep their farm.

The House passed HF 232 at the beginning of March to put more funds toward farm advocates and add a rural mental health counselor to work with farmers bear the emotional weight of the economy. The bill is waiting for a hearing in the Senate agriculture committee.

Important differences

Rod Hebrink, president and CEO of Compeer Financial, an agricultural lender that operates in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, said three main factors separate today’s downturn from the farm crisis in the ’80s.

The first is that both farmers and banks have changed the way they’ve done business since the ’80s. Today, farmers tend to borrow more on the basis of potential earnings than the value of their land, which means they have less debt overall. That makes the market less sensitive to short-term downturns.

The second is that interest rates are much lower today than they were in the ’80s. At one point, in 1980, the prime rate was as high as 21 percent. That’s about four times the general interest rate today.

The third, Hebrink said, is that this downturn has come on more slowly, allowing farmers to adjust the way they do business to compensate for market fluctuations.

There are also fewer farmers today than there were in the ’80s — by about 30,000. So while a downturn has effects beyond farming in rural communities, the number of people directly affected by a downturn in the agricultural economy is less than it was in the 1980s. Today, 73,000 farms operate in Minnesota.

Farm operations in Minnesota, 1910-2017
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Each year, farmers take out an operating loan to buy the seed and pay for the machinery they need to farm the land they’re on. One question, going into this growing season, is whether farmers who have been struggling will be able to borrow at all. If they can, the question becomes how much of their farm they’ll have to mortgage to do it.

“I’m very concerned as we get a little closer to spring, more farmers than in the past will be denied operating loans. What kind of crisis will we have on our hands?” Scott Carlson, executive director of Farm Legal Action Group, told MinnPost in February. FLAG runs a legal assistance hotline for farmers in Minnesota, with the help of some state funds. The national organization was born after the ’80s farm crisis and advocates, sometimes in court, for farmers that are underwater with their banks.

The Minneapolis Fed reported increases in farm bankruptcies in 2018, a sign that farms can’t just keeping treading water. As farmers lose cash, they become more desperate for credit and they become riskier to lend to, said the Fed’s Mahon.

“Farmers made a lot of cash during the good years and they’ve had year after year of falling incomes and they’ve been eating into that cash. The nice situation would be that this reverses before that happens,” Mahon said. “But there’s not a lot on the horizon to suggest it will.”

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (41)

  1. Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/25/2019 - 11:49 am.

    They got what they voted for.

    • Submitted by Rory Kramer on 03/25/2019 - 12:39 pm.

      Not all farmers are Republicans.

      • Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/25/2019 - 01:41 pm.

        That is true, but the most cursory examination of election data reveals a majority certainly vote that way. For a constituency which aligns itself as “conservative” they certainly have no idea that Republicans have a wholly different understanding. That is that Republicans love big government, deficit spending, and care only about policies which positively affect corporations instead of ordinary people. That’s what happens when you get stuck in a Fox News bubble and vote based on appeals to jingoism, nativism and idiocy. The irony that they want bailouts due to the tariffs is pure schadenfreude, except for all to obvious realization that it comes at expense of degrading our democracy.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/26/2019 - 07:14 am.

        As a group, they got what they voted for.

      • Submitted by Scot Kindschi on 03/31/2019 - 02:56 pm.

        Only 95%.

  2. Submitted by Chris Mau on 03/25/2019 - 12:10 pm.

    Excellent article. Another problem is that when profits are high, farmers (like other businesses) often purchase equipment. The net cost of these items becomes significantly lower when the tax savings are deducted. However, the value of this equipment falls very quickly once farmers become short on cash. It makes banks very hesitant to provide additional loans when the farmer’s existing loans are already upside down.

  3. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 03/25/2019 - 12:20 pm.

    Trump is placing his focus on his best buddies – Putin, Netanyahu and Kim, as well as the billionaires who bankroll his campaign. What does he care about small farmers, other than getting their votes in 2020? His ill conceived trade war against China took away a vital market, which other countries are just happy to supply.

  4. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 03/25/2019 - 12:28 pm.

    I think dairy farmers have been in a state of crisis for several years now.

  5. Submitted by Rich Nymoen on 03/25/2019 - 01:26 pm.

    Here’s a tool to help: https://www.progress.org/articles/rent-sharing-farm-trusts-a-commons-based-way

  6. Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/25/2019 - 02:12 pm.

    Weird that the Republicans who represent most farmers seem to be more focused on what is happening in the cities.

  7. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 03/25/2019 - 11:47 pm.

    “High prices for crops like corn and soybeans enticed farmers to produce more of them. As supply rose, prices dove, Nordquist said.
    Though prices have stayed low, farmers continued to produce high yields. That allowed them to make up the income lost to low prices by selling more crops overall, even if the oversupply then reduced prices further, Mahon said. “You end up with output prices that are near break-even and strong yields that offset some but not all of the effects.”

    “Declining demand, low prices, and oversupply were the start of their troubles”.

    Not sure where political opportunists fit in with these explanations.

    • Submitted by lisa miller on 03/26/2019 - 10:00 am.

      You only highlighted part of the article and not the cash subsidy part.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/26/2019 - 10:11 am.

      Let me help you out.

      The “political opportunists” are referring to the parts of the article talking about the political causes of the farm crisis, not the non-political ones. Namely, the president’s destructive and nonsensical trade policy.

      I’d like to see rural representatives focused on helping farmers. Instead they (and the farmers who elect them) seem more focused on things like who gets to use what bathroom, and whether Minneapolis can have a minumum wage and sick leave.

      They are getting what they voted for. If pointing that out makes me a political opportunist, so be it.

  8. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/26/2019 - 07:13 am.

    Direct cash payments? Seriously?

    Here you have a group of people that have demonstrated that they cannot handle their finances, and we’re going to give them cash?

    They’ll just head to the casino. Or maybe the liquor store. If they even use it to buy food, they’ll be getting lobster while my wife stretches our dollars just to buy hamburger.

    There needs to be more controls on this cash aid. How will we know it’s spent wisely?

    And for sure there should be drug testing. Lots of opioid abuse in farm country.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/26/2019 - 08:27 am.

      By Republican logic, they are more than willing to create mandatory requirements for some segments of the population receiving government service, i.e marginalized people receiving food stamps, etc. Why doesn’t that apply here? The hypocrisy is so sick.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/26/2019 - 10:12 am.

      Well played, sir.

    • Submitted by Rory Kramer on 03/26/2019 - 11:31 am.

      Sir, do you have any firsthand knowledge of the external factors that farmers face on a daily basis that they have no control over that affect their cashflow? Farmers, unless they are direct marketing their crops, meat, and milk at farmer’s markets, don’t set the prices for the commodities they grow. Prices for corn, soybeans, etc. are determined by traders who have never set foot on a farm, sitting at their monitors in places like Chicago or New York. One day a bushel of corn can be one price and the next day it can be higher or lower and the farmer has to take whatever price is offered at the local elevator. They can’t tell the grain buyer they will only sell the corn for a price they determine to be fair to pay their bills, unlike the rest of society does with plumbers, electricians, doctors, etc. setting their hourly rates or cost per operation.

      These cash payouts you mention might seem outrageous to you but to most farmers it means being able to put food on the tables and clothing for their families. Yes, people do abuse the system but who hasn’t taken advantage of government payouts like welfare, social security and the like??

      • Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/26/2019 - 11:52 am.

        And are you aware of how Republican policies have maligned vast segments of the population through poorly funded schools, a lack of services, and policies which equate to socialism for the rich, and capitalism for the poor? You fail to see the double standard.

      • Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/26/2019 - 11:53 am.

        Amen, less I have to remind you as well, the cash payouts are frightenenly similar to the Soviet model. Can you remind me what the Republicans have been saying about socialism recently?

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/26/2019 - 11:57 am.

        I’m wondering if you have firsthand knowledge about the lives of people who receive welfare and other government benefits. If you know how much of their circumstances are determined by things outside their control. That those payments also mean access to food and clothing for them.

        If we are going to scrutinize and demonize one set of people using government benefits, why can’t we do the same for farmers? Why can’t the same standards be applied? My preference would be to not demonize anyone, but if rural areas are going to elect politicians that rely on demonizing others, well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Hey, why can’t I start a wildly unprofitable business and have my losses subsidized by the government?

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/26/2019 - 12:18 pm.

        Don’t you see the harm that will come to these poor souls from this? Think of how their psyches will be harmed by society telling them that they cannot provide for themselves. What lessons will be visited upon their children?

        But I see an even more nefarious aspect to this. Politicians will be empowered by farmers being dependent on big government. Who do you think these people will be voting for but the enablers of their welfare payments?

        But maybe I’m just out of touch with modern times, when big government socialism will destroy the last vestiges of the free market.

      • Submitted by Kurt Anderson on 03/27/2019 - 01:53 pm.

        And yet they consistently vote for the free-marketeers. As one who devoted decades to advocacy on behalf of farm debtors it’s hard to explain.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/26/2019 - 09:32 am.

    Farmers may learning a lesson they should have learned decades ago. We all have to live with elections outcomes regardless who we vote for personally. For decades Democrats and metro Minnesotans cared about rural MN and it’s farmers. We pushed out two out of every three dollars they get in all kinds of services from roads to loans, and education along with a multitude of various subsidies and emergency spending… and we never complained. We always tried to push out more funding than Republicans would allow.

    Then the Farmers decided that a politics of division, resentment, and intolerance was going to work for them and they started voting for it. Did ALL of them vote for it? No, but they don’t ALL have to vote for toxic Republicans in order to elect toxic Republicans. And those that get elected are supposed to represent everyone if you’ll recall.

    Meanwhile, I’m told these people are upset with me because I want light rail, may want to marry a man instead of a woman, say: “happy holidays” instead of: “merry Christmas”, and support abortion rights. Apparently all of these things are more important than the help, dollars, and compassion I’ve been pushing out to them for decades. They’ve decided that if don’t share their crappy values of resentment and intolerance they’re going to throw “hand grenades” into my living room and government. They’ve decided to practice a politics of division organized around a manufactured urban-rural “divide”.

    OK, whatever. It’s a free country, you CAN do ALL of these things. But if you think can attack your fellow citizens and vote for politicians who promise to harm other people one way or another… there WILL be consequences. You can’t be divisive and hostile without provoking a response, and you see the response that’s been provoked here in these comments.

    Is there a farming crises? I’m finding it very difficult to care these days. I used to care a lot. Is that “fair”? It’s as fair as it gets. It’s as fair as discriminating against LBGTQ, women who need abortions, people who don’t celebrate Christmas, and any infrastructure that you don’t YOU will ever use. You want to practice a politics of unfairness, you get a politics of unfairness when you win elections. That’s not something I’VE ever voted for.

    Don’t even get me started talking about climate change… if you’re a farmer and you didn’t think climate change was “real”… whatever. Farmers of ALL people should have been sounding the alarm and demanding action decades ago… instead they decided my “values” were more important than their own livelihoods and the climate they have to grow crops in.

    I don’t want anyone to suffer. I would never vote for ANY candidate who promised to harm fellow Americans or make them suffer in any way. I don’t recognize these manufactured divisions between rural and urban Americans or Minnesotans. But if you WILL be my enemy I CAN be your enemy too. If I have to focus on MY own interests exclusively because that’s the kind of politics you demand… I can do that. But that whole thing seems like a really bad idea doesn’t it?

    What’s done is done. I suggest we find a way to move on and get past this. A politics based on resentment and division was obviously a bad idea so rural voters either need to get their Republican politicians focused on cooperation and inclusion, or they need to vote for someone else.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/26/2019 - 10:40 am.

    By the way, this isn’t really about Trump, Rural voters bought into the politics of resentment and division long ago. You want better roads and bridges? Remember when Pawlenty vetoed the gas tax we needed to pay for your roads and bridges… and it was urban Republicans who voted to override that veto? And remember what happened to them?

    This has been long time in the making.

  11. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/26/2019 - 08:00 pm.

    Actually don’t know what to say, if the company we worked for lost market, to bad, they go down for the count, there is no safety net of any sort. If we voted for a bozo that screwed up the market and caused us to go bankrupt, shouldn’t we be man or woman enough to belly up to the bar and call ourselves out? Should we continue to vote against the hand that helps feed us, because of what? Guess as long as we can BS them and get away with it. You can fool some of the people some of the time, all the people some of the time but not all the people all of the time. Sorry, yes we come from a large relation with lots of farmers.

  12. Submitted by Ken Tschumper on 03/26/2019 - 10:26 pm.

    Great discussion, and much of it is right on the money, especially the comments of David Lundeen and Paul Udstrand. I bought my parents farm in 1976 when I was 26 and milked about forty cows for 37 years, including the two years I served in the MN Legislature, 07 and 08, when we raised the gas tax. It’s really disappointing and almost heartbreaking to see how so many rural residents, especially farmers, vote. A lot of it has to do with guns and abortion, but a lot of it also has to do with farmers just not knowing how much rural areas are subsidized by the Metro and population centers of our State. Life would not be possible in rural areas if it wasn’t for our urban and suburban residents. Roads, schools and nursing homes are heavily subsidized in rural area by taxes generated in our population centers, yet rural residents often think they are not getting “their fair share”. They aren’t, they are getting far more than their fair share.
    And then there is ethanol. Ethanol is an economic and environmental disaster. It drove up input costs and when the bottom fell out of the commodity prices the costs stayed up. Nothing has so disrupted the equilibrium of farming in my lifetime than ethanol and it keeps begging and begging for more subsidizes.
    A larger farmer in our county got elected to our county board last fall. In a 15 year period he had gotten well over a half a million dollars in government farm payments. He campaigned on his opposition to small property tax increases.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/27/2019 - 08:45 am.

      Yes, Ethanol, is there any bad idea Republicans won’t endorse?

      I keep thinking though that one reason rural Americans don’t realize how subsidized there are is because Democrats refuse to run on the subsidies they win for rural Americans. In recent election cycles when Republicans run on their imaginary “divide” and promise more for rural Minnesotan’s, I kept waiting for Democrats to point out the reality that it’s always been Democrats not Republicans that deliver… but those campaigns never materialized? With Republicans it’s always a bait-n-switch, they promise more spending, but then all they want to deliver is tax cuts that make increased spending impossible, or they oppose tax increases that would make spending possible.

      • Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/27/2019 - 09:29 am.

        To ensure my views aren’t being construed as anti-farmer I do want add a few extra points. I want to see every farmer, and citizen for that matter, have an equal opportunity for success with fair rules in play. I graduated college in 2009 so I know first-hand how difficult things can be economically and I don’t wish that upon any middle-class person or family. I have no problem with my tax dollars going to support rural Minnesota in various programs. That’s what makes democracy work, a collective investment in schools, roads and farms is a net benefit for everyone. However, the hypocrisy exhibited by the elected officials is enough to make me sick. The politics of grievance whereby they deserve certain considerations and policies regardless of what anyone thinks (Dayton’s buffer zone plan, bailouts for stupid policies they voted for, etc) is toxic and nauseating. I’d much rather have conversations with farmers about things like the threat industrial farming has to their work and lifestyle.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/27/2019 - 07:58 pm.

      Ken, what’s the answer? How do we turn this around? How did you get yourself elected, and could it happen today?

      • Submitted by Ken Tschumper on 03/29/2019 - 11:06 pm.

        I want to respond to Pat Terry’s questions.
        I got elected in “06, a wave election year for Dems. I won with 48 votes on election night out of a little over 16,000 cast. We ran a good campaign, did some innovative stuff. I have lived here all my life so I know lots of people and I have been involved in the DFL since the Vietnam War.
        I think it is next to impossible for Dems, even “moderate ” Dems to win in “all rural” areas today. That was proven very clearly last fall by Tim Walz. If your rural legislative district is next to or includes a population center, you might be able to win , but most of rural Minnesota is solid GOP and conservative. Guns and abortion are very big items. But there is more to it than that. Many rural people kind of want to stick their thumb in the eye of urban people,( i.e. liberals) and voting conservative and for Trump is sort of a way of doing that. Ever since I was a little kid going to auctions with my dad or going to family reunions I can remember farmers talking about sort of being victims, not making enough money, having to pay too much in property taxes, etc. They see teachers and union members having a better life than they do and somehow it is at the expense of farmers. Environmental issues are now playing that same role of causing farmers to be victims to address the demands of those urban environmentalist.
        Worse of all Conservatives and the GOP have become very good and intensive at exploiting this rural mindset.
        Here is another way to look at it. What could Dems offer rural areas to obtain their support in elections that we don’t already do for them? We spend a tremendous amount of money in rural areas for roads, nursing homes, education farm programs, disaster assistance , etc. The tax code is full a special provisions that help farmers. Many farmers and rural residents are on government subsidized healthcare plans. Improving Internet services in rural area will help farmers and other rural residents some but not that much.
        In one sense farmers and rural residents are low density suburban-nites,. They want the same things suburban people want; good incomes, good schools, a decent retirement. On the other hand the reality of rural life has created a different political and social culture that is very susceptible to Rightwing demagoguery, leading rural residents to vote against their own economic and political well-being.
        I think about it a lot. It is hard to figure out a solution.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/30/2019 - 11:29 pm.

          Good commentary. I think it goes even deeper than that though. I come from small town Wisconsin, the biggest thing I can add is that its NOT just that rural folks want to “stick it” to “the urban elite”, it’s that they feel superior to them. It’s kind of a twisted interpretation of the exceptionalist mantra that pervades so much of conservatism as a whole. My small town peers felt that choosing to live where they did was a conscious choice, a wise decision to stay out of the “rat race” those crazy city dwellers took part in. It’s a pervasive bunker sort of mentality that convinces those who buy in that nothing good can come from without the isolated enclave they inhabit. The internet, far from being the “window to the world” to help dispel these beliefs has served as a reinforcement mechanism, as any sort of ideology can find any “facts” it desires to back up its edicts, and no idea from “outside” can ever permeate that bubble. This, when combined with nostalgic visions of a oft cited “glorious past” (just ask any rural folks over the age of 50) serve to fuel a seething resentment of a world that as a matter of pragmatism, will continue to leave rural populations more and more isolated from the business of the rest of society.

          • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/01/2019 - 12:22 pm.

            This is spot on. Its funny, I could not wait to get out of my small town and move to the cities.

            • Submitted by Matt Haas on 04/01/2019 - 02:00 pm.

              Same here. Not unexpectedly, such sentiments also play a part in fueling the fire, as well. As it’s usually the folks with legitimately better opportunities elsewhere that leave, those left behind harbor resentment that they never did. I won’t go so far as to say they are envious, as I don’t think they are, but they certainly look upon those who leave as having abandoned the “group”, and are quick to delegitimize any attempts at bringing lessons learned “back home” (in the rare instances that such is attempted) as a direct assault by those corrupted abroad.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/31/2019 - 10:13 am.

          With all due respect I think one big problem the Democrats have had for decades is that they keep asking people who don’t think Democrats can win for advice on how to win. There is no law of the universe that dictates that conservatives will always be more adept at exploiting rural anxieties. Please remember what the “F” in DFL stands for… there was a time when liberals were quite successful in rural areas.

          I know people get tired of my anti-centrist drone but the key feature of my analysis is that Democrats need to be a liberal Party, not just a party with a few liberal candidates now and then. The real advantage that Republicans have is that they’ve created a durable narrative and organized a durable and predictable identity around THAT narrative. As irrational and ignorant as that narrative may be, it’s one that every Republican plugs into in every election cycle, and simply having a durable narrative and clear identity gives them an advantage.

          The advantages of durable narratives and clear identity is one that the New Democrats (i.e. neoliberals and “centrists”) have forsaken. They myth of the bipartisan “doer” simply cannot compete with strong narratives. For all it’s dishonesty and duplicity the Republican narrative provides a clear alternative for voters. Democrats by contrast fail to develop their identity, and in fact have allowed Republicans to construct their identity. Instead of asserting who they are, Democrats always trying to deny that they are who and what Republicans claim they are.

          No one can construct a clear and appealing narrative or identity around the claim that they’ll just compromise with everyone else. This is Kobuchar’s problem right now. It does her no good at all to claim that she supports $15 minimum wages because she’s also promising to be the candidate that will compromise that position away if she ever gets a chance. In effect, she’s promising to be the candidate that won’t deliver any campaign promise the Republican’s refuse to endorse. Is it any wonder a party organized around this narrative has trouble winning?

          The problem candidates like Tschumper run into is that when they run, they run alone on whatever platform they create in their own district. Democrats run during elections, in between they spend no time building a cohesive unified narrative (yes, we all know they have an irrelevant Party platform) that everyone can plug into. The Republican advantage is that they can run collectively, when you vote for your local Republican you know he’s going to join fellow Republicans in a common agenda with a common mentality. Democrats forfeit that advantage by refusing to be a liberal party organized around liberal principles and agendas.

          I know some wise men of the Democratic Party like to claim that Democrats are always at a disadvantage because those who want to “do” things need to produce results whereas those who promise keep things from getting done can always coast. This is a false narrative that assumes: A) Voters don’t want anyone to do anything or get anything done. and B) Republicans don’t promise to “do” anything. Fact is republicans promise do all kinds of things from overturning Roe v. Wade to building walls and highways.

          The “centrist” Democratic praxis of meeting the false demand for inaction by promising to get as little if anything done has been a catastrophic failure. Democrats need to create a durable identity based on a bold, clearly defined agenda that voters and candidates can organize around. When candidate like Tschumper can plug into THAT kind of Party organization, they’ll be able to win rural votes.

          • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/01/2019 - 12:18 pm.

            Wait, its a problem that I am asking someone who has run for office (and won) as a DFLer in rural Minnesota what the answer is? I’ll let Ken answer this, but I’m guessing that a top-down liberal agenda from the party isn’t the way to go.

            The urban-rural divide is not unique to Minnesota. Its not even unique to America.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/01/2019 - 12:10 pm.

          Thanks for that really good comment, Ken. And thanks for running for office. Not easy to do as a DFLer in rural Minnesota.

  13. Submitted by chuck holtman on 03/27/2019 - 07:09 pm.

    In a thoughtful society, we’d talk about how risk should be allocated among producers, bulk purchasers, consumers and the general public, and enact laws and policies accordingly.

    First, though it isn’t in the article, to get it out of the way: environmental laws are a red herring. Economics 101 is you need to internalize your social costs or you don’t have socially optimized production. Producers shouldn’t get exempted from pollution laws and force the general public to bear the cost via a damaged commons.

    Second, producers that operate in the realm of providing primary goods (i.e., actual food) ought to be able to shift risk to the general public through crop insurance, price supports, foreclosure protection and so forth. This realm of economic activity is appropriately more “socialized,” in other words. Whether domestic and export goods should be treated differently is a question.

    Third, those who aren’t producing primary goods (e.g., commodities for ethanol, industrial inputs, animal feed, corn syrup) are land-based industrial producers and should operate in a competitive environment. When they are squeezed from the top by multinational commodity buyers, then public support is simply a subsidy to those multinationals. In this realm, laws to manage monopsony would be appropriate, but not risk-shifting onto the general public.

    At least, this seems like a rough schema from which one could start.

    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 03/28/2019 - 11:58 am.

      Very thoughtful comment. I would add that rural policy does not necessarily have to be just farm policy. Mechanized productivity trends will continue to lead to fewer farms and fewer farmers in rural areas. Betting on only farming to fuel the rural economy will lead to the end of rural cities.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/28/2019 - 08:17 am.

    I don’t see anyone actually being anti-farmer at this point, the sympathy is just wearing thing.

    Regulations are necessary because the water is heavily contaminated and unsafe to drink, swim, or fish in. The buffers aren’t Dayton’s idea, they’ve been recommended by biologists and environmental scientist. This wasn’t a problem that sprang out of nowhere, farmers have been aware of the contamination they’ve been producing for decades, and they’ve simply failed to be the environmental stewards they promised to be. The contamination has been steadily increasing, and it’s spreading to the ground water. And now farmers will need more urban dollars to clean up their water supplies because they can’t afford to do it themselves. I’m not attacking anyone I’m just making an observation.

    I want everyone to have clean and safe drinking water, and people like to fish and swim. I don’t mind paying for safe rural drinking water but no one is entitled to ruin the water in the first place. Water is a shared resource. It’s simply futile to focus on cleaning contaminated water while ignoring the source of contamination, you have to address both issues.

  15. Submitted by Ken Tschumper on 03/29/2019 - 11:14 pm.

    I don’t know it I am the only farmer in this discussion, but I feel the comments have been very constrained and are certainly not anti-farmer. Even though I have farmed all of my life, I got accused of being anti-farmer during my second year in the Legislature because Sen Marty and I introduced bills to shift the registration of pesticides from the Department of Ag to the Department of Health. the lesson being that it doesn’t take much to be painted as being anti-farmer.

  16. Submitted by Arthur F Meincke on 03/31/2019 - 10:00 am.

    Trumps raising tariffs against China hurt U.S. farmers across the board. Market access is being limited by the President’s actions. Closing the U.S. Border with Mexico will hurt all Americans even more. Trump is for Trump, not U.S. farmers…

Leave a Reply