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WTF: Where’s The ‘Farmer’ in DFL?

WTF: Where’s The ‘Farmer’ in DFL?
REUTERS/Jim Young
In rural Minnesota, affection for Donald Trump is everywhere you look.

Drive through the agricultural regions of Minnesota these days and you’ll see combines and corn, soybeans and, well, a whole lot of signs: Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump.  

Hillary Clinton’s lead is growing in Minnesota, according to this week’s Star Tribune poll. But in rural Minnesota, affection for Trump is everywhere you look. So what, exactly, is that about? What in the world do Donald Trump and Minnesota farmers have in common? 

“I think those signs are a reaction to the proliferation of restrictions,” said LeRoy Stumpf, a Minnesota farmer and influential state senator who is not campaigning for a legislative office for the first time in 35 years. “Not all of the regulations are bad, but if you keep adding to them without subtracting some, that becomes a problem.”

A changing rural Minnesota

Keep in mind that Stumpf is not some reactionary, anti-government Republican. He’s a lifelong DFLer. But he comes from another time in Minnesota. He grew up on a small family farm. He is a small farmer, and he once represented the norm in the state.

Through the 1950s, the majority of Minnesotans lived in rural parts of the state, meaning in towns of fewer than 2,500. By 1960, less than half of the population was rural. Now it’s less than 25 percent, a number that will continue to decline.

The small farm, which was once fertile ground for the DFL, has been hit especially hard. The number of farms in the state has fallen from about 103,000 in 1980 to 74,000 today. Young people can’t afford to get into an industry increasingly controlled by big interests. Today’s Minnesota farmers are also older (average age: 55) and whiter (more than 99 per cent of the farmers are white) than the rest of the state. 

So does the ‘F’ still apply in DFL? 

“The ‘F’  matters to us,” said DFL chairman Ken Martin. “The ‘F’ for us is fighting for the family farm; fighting for the little guy. ... But I’m not going to lie to you. It’s difficult right now. Young people can’t afford to get into farming anymore. It’s big agri-business now and that’s changed the face of the rural areas of the state.”

Republicans claimed control of the House in 2014 by virtually running the table in farm country. What’s left of the farm vote could make control of the state Senate dicey for the DFL as well.

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin
DFL Party Chair Ken Martin

The list of problems facing DFL in farm country is long. The party and farmers have long had different views on three big social issues — God, guns and gays — even as DFL-inspired environmental regulations have increased. Now, add to that the soaring costs associated with MNsure and the Affordable Care Act. Farmers — both large and small — have been big users of those programs, which Democrats are both trying to repair and defend in the days before the election.

Even the one area of big government farmers embrace — the feds’ farm bill — is aggravating to farmers. The 2014 bill requires $489 billion in spending over a five-year period, but a big chunk of those expenditures will go for food programs that serve the poor and school children. Among others, Donald Trump has said he believes the food support portions of the proposal should be separated from the farm bill.  A substantial number of farmers agree. Farm bill money, they think, should be “their” money.   

But at Farmfest a few months ago, U.S. Rep. Colin Peterson, the brains behind the farm bill, explained the realities of passing a bill in the Congress. There aren’t nearly enough pols in Washington to pass a bill for farmers without the support of pols from metro areas. Food support programs that fill the farm bill buy the needed support. Farmers in the audience grumbled, but many nodded their heads in understanding. Peterson is one of the DFLers farmers trust.

Trends can change

And yet, difficult as things look for DFLers in ag-land, there are factors that can change trends. Hard economic times brought farmers and laborers together to form the Farmer-Labor Party in 1918. That party flourished as few third parties ever have, electing a majority in the state legislature and a handful of governors, senators and members of congress. The merger with the more conservative Democratic party came in 1944.

In the ensuing years, the GOP typically fared well — though it did not dominate — in Minnesota farm country. “When farmers get a little money in their pockets they become Republicans,” said Ted Winter, a small farmer and insurance agent in southwest Minnesota.

But then came the farm crisis of the 1980s. From 1979 to 1990, farm country was crushed by a combination of high-interest rates and low crop prices. The pain was immense. In Minnesota, 28,000 farms were wiped out.

According to current ag commissioner Dave Frederickson, the Republican response to the foreclosures and auctions and tears didn’t impress a lot of Minnesota farmers. In 1986, there was a huge DFL sweep in farm country, and people like Winter and Frederickson were elected to the state legislature. “The DFL helped tremendously,” according to Winter. “There were all sorts of programs that helped but the biggest was ethanol. Dave Frederickson deserves a lot of credit for that.”

Commodity prices began increasing in the 1990s, with corn being a huge winner for Minnesota farmers — prices reached $7 a bushel, triple the prices they’d been only a few years earlier.  But something else happened as those commodity prices increased, Winter said. The prices of land skyrocketed, as did the cost of renting farmland, and the costs of seed, fertilizer and herbicides. “The farmer was getting about 35 per cent of the increase (for commodities),” Winter said. “The big boys were getting the rest.”

And now, commodity prices have crashed again, but the overhead costs are going down at a much slower rate, according to Winter, who believes we are on the cusp of another crisis. Another crisis, he said, would make the DFL look more appealing to state farmers.

But there are less foreboding reasons for the DFL not to give up on farm country, according to Martin. Immigrants are pouring into the mid-sized communities of rural Minnesota, taking ag-related jobs. And while young people may not be able to afford to get into farming, they are seeking jobs in the mid-sized communities of ag country. Martin describes those factors — a younger, more diverse population — as “our saving grace” in the years ahead in farm country. 

But in the days ahead, there’s an election. And for now, there remains a lot of Trump signs next to the tall corn.

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Comments (28)

Farmers

The great irony is that farmers and rural residents are more dependent on government than anyone else in this country. The big city liberals they resent are the ones subsidizing them.

Also, it's time for the DFL to drop the F. And the L too.

Not sure the farm vote has its eye on the long ball

In regard to Trump's anti globalization and anti Free trade stance. Revoking NAFTA and building a wall at the Southern border will sure make it hard for millions of tons of grain and other products to get thru to Mexico. And the very increase in global grain prices in the 1990's till today was largely the result of the full entry of China into the Global trading system. China is currently in a 5 year plan to try to become more reliant on their own soybean production, and they have a full 2year surplus of corn in their storage bins. A trade war and erection of tariffs into the USA will be countered with trade barriers on USA agri products, there is no question. Farmers may think it can be a one way street, but it won't be, Canada, Russia, Ukraine, the EU, Brazil , Argentina and Australia will be the main beneficiaries of this policy.

I spend time with farmers, I would say the majority are oriented toward the establishment GOP , which has supported free trade and opening access for USA products in foreign markets. They are also rural and tend to be more conservative socially and culturally. Finally I hear a lot of anger about the Minnesota requirement for a 50 foot buffer zone around fields... and other regulatory matters imposed on them by the state and federal govt. This translates into anti DFL type sentiment.

It's unlikely this will change anytime soon, but I suspect Bernie Sanders or someone like him, would be more popular out in farm country than Hillary Clinton. Think William Jennings Bryan and agrarian populism.

Not all MN farmers are government-subsidized farmers

"....And for now, there remains a lot of Trump signs next to the tall corn..." I think this sentence reveals a lot; it's the government-subsidized commodity farmers who appear to be supporting Trump. But I doubt that holds true for all the MN farmers who are outside of the government handout programs.

What exactly have Republicans done for rural Minnesota?

Well, Trump has fed the fears and anger of rural Minnesota, getting them riled up. That is something, although for the last 100 years, rural America has been neglected. Has government neglected rural Minnesota? Not really. Where the neglect comes from is the business boardroom where corporations exploit rural labor, but move on once they get a better offer.

A good example is from my home town, Appleton MN. City fathers at one point built a private prison as a way to bring jobs to the community. It didn't work out as planned and a national corrections organization bought the prison. Unfortunately, when the demand for private prisons started to dry up across the country, that corporation closed the prison.

Recently, the corporation has been working to reopen the prison, trying to get rural folks to lobby the legislature to lease the beds. At a time when the federal government is phasing out private prisons, that amounts to a corporate handout. Instead, many are now proposing that the state buy the prison at a low cost and open the first state prison in the western, rural part of the state. Will Republicans endorse this idea, or given their love affair with privatization insist that a lease arrangement is the only way to go?

This really illustrates the situation. Republicans cannot perpetually vent about how unfairly rural Minnesota is treated without proposing actual programs and solutoins to jump start economic development. Things like economic development zones and tax breaks have their place, but they are no substitute for putting more infrastructure investment in rural Minnesota - things like high speed internet, modern highways and bridges - and human investments in helping those who want to establish farms, businesses and new skills.

The state will be healthier with more growth outside of the metro area. The only way that is likely is with government initiative. Is that kind of initiative likely from a party that is all about low taxes and market solutions? If those things had worked for rural Minnesota, we wouldn't have our current situation.

Well

"when the demand for private prisons started to dry up" because the government decided to start releasing prisoners due to overcrowding rather than keeping them incarcerated, the explanation becomes obvious.

Demand for wind and solar power increased when the government mandated it (surprise) and coal demand fell when the government started doing everything in it's power to put it out of business.

Demand for corn increased when ethanol mandates were enacted by the government and ethanol companies flourished, imagine that!

The DFL administration demands buffer strips and is surprised that some farmers don't appreciate the intrusion after they are pretty much told what to grow (to remain profitable).

"modern highways and bridges" is what the GOP wants, as opposed to mass transit.

Market Forces

To suggest that the struggles of the coal industry are the result of government policy and not due to the abundance of cheap natural gas is to tell me that up is down, black is white, and the moon is the sun.

I was born at night, but it wasn't last night.

It's sad, really

There’s much truth in the comments of both Bryce Elson and Joel Stegner, but whatever faith rural Minnesotans (or rural dwellers anywhere in the country, for that matter) place in Donald Trump is tragically misplaced. Move beyond the bigotry, misogyny and racism Trump and his running mate have displayed – which plays into similar sentiments in at least some rural areas, though (I hope) not to the same degree – and you’ll find that a New York real estate developer of uncertain wealth and demonstrated dishonesty has virtually nothing in common with socially and economically conservative farmers, no matter what the size of their farm might be. He’s interested in trade as it applies to the wealthy and the corporate, and there are some agribusiness folks for whom that’s an accurate description, but independent farmers tend to be affluent one year, deep in the financial hole the next, depending upon factors over which they have almost no control at all.

Mr. Stegner is especially on-point, I think, in regard to the state Republican Party. The GOP gained numerous seats in the state House during the last electoral go-round by heavily criticizing a lack of action on the part of the DFL, while promising lots of benefits for rural Minnesota. Those benefits, if they exist at all, have never appeared. We’ve not even been able to get the GOP members of the legislature to get behind the notion of funding/subsidizing high-speed internet service throughout the state – in a society and economy increasingly dependent upon e-commerce in a host of different forms, not to mention information and entertainment.

There’s also much truth in Pat Terry’s comment. Crop supports are a farm subsidy that all of us pay, and whether that subsidy benefits bigger agribusiness-type farms more than smaller family farms, it’s still being paid by all Minnesotans, most of whom do NOT live on a farm of ANY size. If the assumption that many/most farmers are “establishment Republicans” holds true, Terry’s suggestion that the “F” be dropped from the DFL party label makes sense, though perhaps not indefinitely. The same could easily be applied to the “L.” While Minnesota seems friendlier to union activity than my former states of residence (Missouri and Colorado), it’s not exactly a hotbed of pro-union or worker activism in some other form. That, too, may change if the economic dichotomy in the economy continues and grows, but for the time being, public advocates for collective bargaining, pro-union sentiment, and worker’s rights are largely invisible. Where they buck the trend and ARE visible, they’re quickly outfunded by the local Chamber of Commerce, which invariably sides with owners and investors rather than employees.

Having done the grunt work on a farm for a decade, when I was younger and stronger, I’m familiar with the labor and many of the issues, environmental and otherwise, associated with farming as a lifestyle and occupation. That said, whining about buffer zones to reduce soil and chemical pollution of waterways in a state the depends upon water for health and recreation is beyond selfish. Everyone has a stake in their local water supply, and there are no scientific or ethical reasons why the people who – in rural areas – contribute most of the pollutants should somehow be exempt from regulations that no one (beyond the owners in the affected business) would object to if/when similar rules apply to an urban or suburban industry.

Rural sentiment in favor of Donald Trump seems grossly misplaced to me, and I’d argue that rural Minnesotans have been played for suckers by the GOP, at least in the years I’ve been here.

Regulation and buffers

I agree with practically everything you said Ray, but I have consistently found
this buffer strip and water regulation issue to be the biggest complaint against
big government ... (and you don't hear so much complaining about the many Federal
programs from agronomy support to crop insurance and liberal tax laws for farm families)
I read an article in the Farm Forum over the weekend, about the entire buffer issue, apparently in South Dakota the governor is proposing tax breaks to farmers who put in buffer strips . But a farmer interviewed said essentially that a $2 to $3 per acre tax break is meaningless , because after all , 50 feet here and there and it tends to add up eventually to less bushels per acre in a cost/price situation which for at least one year has not been in the farmers favor. In the end this farmer said the buffer thing gets down to the individual farmer's interest in conservation, either they have it, or they don't. (as one poster said, the dumping of motor oil behind the barn..... versus scrupulous disposal methods... its a personal issue and only some farmers have that ethos).

Otherwise I think Trump's infamous "straight" talking without filters appeals to some outstate, and yes of course they have been played for suckers, but I think the DFL power base in the cities and therefore its interest for the most part in urban issues is an obstacle to overcome.

Some Numbers

Increase in strip width = 33.4 ft = 50 ft - 16.6 ft
Area of 1 mile of strip = 4 acres of lost tillable land
200 bu/acre corn a $4/bu = lost revenue of $800 / mile.

Now if you had just paid $4,000+ / acre for this land.
How excited would you be if the government told you that you can not grow crops there and still have to pay property taxes on it?

Hopefully the farmers find someway to claim it as CRP. Though it may not qualify since it is not highly erodible.

Impaired Urban lakes

From MN Daily 10/9/13
study by U of MN, a Land Grant University

140 ESTIMATED NUMBER OF LAKES IN MINNEAPOLIS-ST.
PAUL METRO AREA THAT ARE NUTRIENT-IMPAIRED

60 percent OF EXCESS NUTRIENTS IN URBAN LAKES ORIGINATE
FROM FALLEN TREE LEAVES

Why fallen tree leaves? Because cities only sweep the streets twice a year spring & fall.

The Minnehaha Watershed district several years ago removed 400 tons of muck from Gleason Lake in Wayzata. Which mostly came from storm water runoff. It built wetlands to reduce pollution in Minnehaha Creek & Lake Nokomis that were suppose to last 25 years. They had to be dredged out in 7 years because of all the pollution from storm water run off filled them up.

Leaves that fall in rural area don't cause the same pollution problem because they fall on soil mostly and just lay there and decay & become part of the soil.

People take live in urban areas need to take responsibility for cleaning up urban lakes & stop throwing stones at farmers.

Please Remember

A vote for Clinton is likely actually a Vote against Trump... and A vote for Trump is likely a vote against Clinton...

Most of my farming family and friends see Clinton as everything that is wrong with the US government... (ie life long self serving politicians padding their wallets at the expense of us citizens) Therefore all the "Hillary for Prison" signs in rural MN.

And the ever increasing number of land use regulations sure isn't helping their opinion.

Not necessarily

It's just as likely that a vote for Clinton is a vote for "I'm going to vote for the Democrat - I just wish there was a better choice."

And the same may well hold true on the Republican side . . . . . .

The best part is

Voters who hold their nose and vote for Clinton will have to hold their nose again in four years when she wins.

Trump, while he won't be our next President (as stated by media everywhere), would face opposition from more than a handful of Republicans in (gasp!) 2 years...

Narrow viewpoint

I can't argue with that first sentence, which is too bad. I can't remember even a single presidential candidate, much less a pair of them, with so many negatives, whether real or perceived.

Unfortunately, your farming family and friends, like mine, are not looking beyond the immediate. "…Everything that is wrong with the US government…" is a criticism more accurately aimed at BOTH political parties, not just the DFL. Self-serving politicians, lining their pockets at the expense of the rest of us, serve as purported representatives of the population under the aegis of both Republican and DFL parties. If Hillary deserves prison, so did/does George Bush, but not only do I not see "The Shrub for Prison" signs now in rural areas, nor did I see them in rural areas during the Bush administration. "Cheney for Prison" is also richly deserved, but I don't, and didn't, see those signs, either.

I don't think Ms. Clinton should have been paid $200,000+ to give a speech of any kind, to any audience, but doing so is perfectly legal, and more importantly, Ms. Clinton did not make those speeches while working for the United States government. She made those speeches as a private citizen, and isn't even a little bit unique in doing so, nor was her fee among the highest paid for that sort of speech. Dozens of wealthy businessmen have been paid that much and more to give similar speeches to similar audiences.

Why should farmers, being citizens of the same society as the rest of us, and being subsidized to some degree by the rest of us, be exempt from land-use regulations that the rest of us are expected to pay attention to, especially those regulations that affect the health and safety of their fellow-citizens?

No Free Lunch

I often find it amusing when city folks talk about "farm subsidies" like the farmers are getting them for free and that they are the only folks who benefit from them. The government uses them to incent private property owners to behave in a certain way and to stabilize the US agricultural system. I think all of us citizens can appreciate that, especially those who struggle to pay their grocery bills.

Increasing the buffer strip requirement from 16 feet to 50 feet was pointless and just frustrated many farmers even more. It would have been much more effective to just enforce the 16 foot buffer. Most farmers are great stewards of their land and want to keep the good top soil / fertilizer in their fields where it can earn them a profit.

I have a friend who is on one of the watershed boards, he is always fascinated at how high the allowed run off is in the cities as compared to in the rural areas. Please remember that most of the run off from fields flows through the soil into perforated tile and them into the water stream. (ie filtered) And most of the stalks and grain are harvested or plowed under... Unlike all the fertilizer, salt, oil and grass clippings that are washed off our asphalt / concrete roads into our local water shed.

50 foot buffers

The 50 foot buffers are necessary because agricultural activity is destroying water quality. The law was necessary because farmers were not voluntarily taking necessary steps to protect water quality, they did have ample opportunity to do so and failed.

Ditch Design

As we have discussed before. The ditches are designed and created in most cases to be taller at the edges than the height of the field, therefore the vast majority of water entering them comes via soil filtration and tiles. In the picture, see where the excavator is setting the material.

Now there may be a couple of farmers who plowed too close to the crest of the berm. And as I said the government should have enforced the 16 foot set back in these cases.

http://www.co.mcleod.mn.us/images/client/Ditch.Pictures0001.jpg

From my view, Pheasants Forever and Pro-Prairie Supporter lobbying is why the 50 foot rule was passed.

Sometimes a free lunch...

I can agree that "most farmers" are concerned with their impact on the land that supports them. Unfortunately, that still leaves "many farmers" who see it as their land that they are free to do as they see fit with. "If I want my cows in the stream bed, I'll let them go there". And many still do, polluting the water for all other uses. I have seen a number of these cases and then will subsequently check on their use of farm subsidies and see they partake to the limits allowed. This is the true insanity of our current situation: abuse the land and get federal dollars to assist with it.

Farmers get away with this way beyond private industry. Let some manufacturing facility have an accidental spill of a gallon of solvent and their are serious consequences with investigators to prevent it (as there should be). Let some farmer dump a pail of motor oil out behind the barn and nobody ever notices or does anything.

Useful Links

I think you are thinking of the old time rules. Here are some modern day regs.

Fuel Tank Regs
http://www.sdstate.edu/news/2011/08/extension-specialist-farm-and-home-f...

EPA Regs
https://www.epa.gov/agriculture/agriculture-laws-and-regulations-apply-y...

Which level of Government?

The "Farm Programs" are are a FEDERAL program not a state program. So people from all 50 states support them.

The 50' buffer is a state program.

So farmers can support Democrats at the Federal level for the federal farm programs and oppose the DFL at the state level. Farmers see the 50" buffer as being imposed on them by the urban DFLers which control the DFL party.

As others have stated there is no F in the DFL. Urban DFLers look down their nose at farmers and blame them for all the pollution issues while ignoring the problems caused by storm water runoff in the metro area that has polluter over 140 urban lakes. Urban DFLers kill development in rural areas by imposing regulations that delay & delay expansion of farming operations that involve livestock.

There is no L in DFL unless its a teachers or public employee labor union

Irony, in the light of history

President Truman and his Secretary of Agriculture Brennan put forward a farm aid package designed to help the family farmer, but the conservative National Grange which was then a powerful farmers' organization, successfully fought it, calling the measure a form of welfare. Thus appeared the alternative: commodity price supports that came to subsidize big agribusiness.

The world turns

Yet many rural areas fear a turning world. And Trump plays into those fears. As Ray said, probably against their own good. We don't live in isolation even if we think we do. The world is a much smaller and more integrated place with increased diversity than it used to be, what the R's fear, and the D's embrace.

Rural Minnesota

I was the DFL endorsed candidate for House seat 2B in 2014 and can tell you it's not just farmers that putting up Trump signs. There is certainly bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia that is attractive to some. Some hate Hillary. But it goes deeper than that. It's people that live in small modest homes and trying to do the best they can for their families that are hammering Trump signs into their lawns. The average median household income in my district is $45,859.00. People here are frustrated. People feel as if they are working hard, playing by the rules and being responsible citizens while there is a whole other group of power elite that are taking advantage of the rest. I've seen power brokers in my party play small ball (and cynically so) by picking winners and losers. I've seen the same republican elite do their best with adobe photo shop and flood my district with negative ads. Again, top down, demeaning and condescending. People out here are not dumb. Some see Trump as red button to push. They just want to blow up the elite political classes.

REJECT WN Agreed

Articles like this one greatly frustrate people in rural communities. The perception of conflicts of interest are so large.
http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/inside-%e2%80%98bill-clinton-inc%...

Another issue is that the people in smaller communities know who is receiving government assistance, their personal history, their family history, etc. And it greatly frustrates the hard workers at times.

I Know

Of a couple of families (one even from out of state!) that have received and continue to receive millions of dollars in government assistance. And yes, it is greatly frustrating to many hard working folks.

On the other hand, I also know folks in my urban community who are receiving government assistance, and it no one seems to mind. They are allowed to deduct property taxes and mortgage interest from their taxable income, a subsidy from both the federal and state governments. This intrusion of the government into the market distorts pricing, supply and demand. In fact, when I myself took advantage of receiving this assistance from the government, I was even congratulated! I'd imagine it's the same in rural parts of the state.

Deductions vs Credits

I guess I see deductions as tools where the government tax code is used to encourage people to do things. (ie build homes, start businesses, fund research, invest, etc) Most of these simply reduce the taxes paid by those people in exchange for them taking some action. (ie the govt does not write them a check)

Welfare payments, Medicaid, EITC, etc are checks from the government to individuals to help them with normal bills. (no action required) Unfortunately this can only occur after the government has taken the money from other individuals via taxes.

Insurance?

Doesn't insurance do the same thing, through premiums?

Premiums

The questions are...

Is the insurance premium payer the benefit recipient?

Can the individual choose to not pay the insurance premium if they are unhappy with the company, system, benefits, etc?

Would you willingly pay my home insurance premiums? If I am the one who would get the repair check? I kind of doubt it.