U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told a gathering of farmers and agricultural leaders Friday in East Grand Forks she was optimistic about the Senate farm bill as it goes to a committee ahead of final passage.
The $428 billion measure passed June 26 through the Senate with bipartisan support. The bill will move into conference committee negotiations as members from the Senate and House agriculture committees work to find a compromise before the current farm bill expires Sept. 30.
Klobuchar also told local farmers the measure would not harm sugar, which is an integral part of Red River Valley agriculture.
Klobuchar criticized current NAFTA discussions that have led to tariff-related costs among American allies. She said she understands how restricted trade is hurting farmers and wants to see more collaboration from the administration to reopen lines of communication and trade with Mexico and Canada.
"You can't just close off from these countries that have been our allies and our trading partners. ... It doesn't make any sense to me to be pushing away our friends," Klobuchar said. "They're our biggest trading partner in Minnesota."
Klobuchar is up for re-election this year, facing Republican nominee state Rep. Jim Newberger of Becker and Green Party candidate Paula Overby of Eagan.
Theresia Gillie, former president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, raised concerns about the $12 billion promised as relief for farmers harmed by tariffs imposed on other imports by China. The details still are limited, but funds will be based on the 2018 harvest, Legislative Assistant Brian Werner said. Farmers likely won't see any assistance until after harvest.
"The problem with that is the farmers can't bank on that until some of these rules get made, and the banks won't put it on a balance sheet or anything until we can put it on some hard numbers."
Farmers' financial struggles have been going on for a long time but have been made worse by current trade policies, Bryan Klabunde of the Minnesota Farmers Union said.
"What it really comes down to in rural Minnesota and rural North Dakota is we need a better price for our commodities," he said.
Trade policies that encourage better price structures could help farmers and entice younger generations to work in agriculture, Klabunde said.
The farm bill is a step in the right direction to stabilizing prices and ensuring better profits, Klobuchar said, but she agreed with farmers that it is part of a longer timeline.
"We're so proud of the Senate farm bill," she said. "We've worked so hard to get it done."