America’s economic well-being depends on the health of our farmlands and rural communities. As the nation’s fifth largest agricultural producing state, Minnesota is home to 67,500 farms that contribute almost $17 billion to our state economy each year. Rural communities that rely on an agriculture economy often see disproportionate impacts from natural disasters, market volatility, and global pandemics. These communities have unique needs, ranging from housing and infrastructure to health care and broadband access. We must give rural communities the tools they need to spur innovation, create jobs and opportunities, and confront these challenges.
The cyclical nature of agriculture means that farmers make large financial investments in their crops, livestock, buildings, and equipment and sometimes face heavy losses due to natural disasters and market circumstances beyond their control. As our weather becomes more extreme, farmers need greater support to survive climate-related disasters that have cost the farming economy hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years. I am committed to maintaining a strong, fair safety net for our farmers to help them get through disasters and periods of low prices.
Farmers and Midwestern workers also need to seize economic opportunities generated by the homegrown biofuels market as America continues to move toward energy independence. Farm-based biofuels are critical to both our rural economies and our nation’s energy security, and I am committed to supporting growth for farmers in this industry—from traditional biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel to the next generation of cellulosic ethanol made from prairie grass to wind energy to electricity made from livestock waste.
The low population density of rural communities has meant that access to reliable broadband has lagged behind other parts of the country. Expanding broadband into all rural areas is essential for creating jobs, expanding economic opportunity, and leveling the playing field during crisis situations. I am fighting to get rural Minnesotans affordable broadband services to improve health care delivery and education and business opportunities.
Rural America has been particularly hard hit by the opioid epidemic and increased methamphetamine use. According to preliminary data, more than 68,000 people died from opioid and other drug overdoses across the country in 2018—including 607 in Minnesota. On average, about 130 Americans die every day from an overdose involving an opioid, and only about 1 in 10 people suffering from opioid addiction actually receive the treatment they need. I’ll continue fighting for additional funds and resources to help communities where many struggle with addiction—especially with the added psychological and economic stresses of the coronavirus pandemic.
As Minnesota’s U.S. senator, I will continue to focus on these priorities:
- Supporting farmers and ranchers through the Farm Bills. When we support farmers and ranchers, we ensure the continuity of the agricultural supply chain, helping all workers, as well as small businesses. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I worked hard to craft a strong 2018 Farm Bill that built on the successes of the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills, strengthened the safety net for Minnesota farmers and ranchers, invested in conservation programs, and supported homegrown energy.
- Preserving and strengthening the farm safety net. Farmers and farm communities need a strong and fair farm safety net to protect against extreme weather and market failures. The 2014 Farm Bill eliminated direct payments and worked to eliminate fraud and waste to ensure that these programs are efficient and targeted. In the 2018 Farm Bill, I worked to maintain and strengthen the crop insurance program, continue the sugar program, create new risk-management tools for dairy producers, and fully fund the permanent disaster programs for livestock producers. And during the coronavirus pandemic, I have worked to ensure that livestock producers and local and specialty food producers who sell directly to farmers markets, schools, and restaurants have had access to emergency resources to offset sharp commodity price declines.
- Shoring up the dairy program. Dairy farmers have faced significant financial stress due to low prices, stagnant export growth, and declining sales. That’s why I worked to address ongoing difficulties with the Margin Protection Program (MPP) for dairy farmers in the 2018 Farm Bill. After years of low prices, which threatened dairy farms with the prospect of needing to sell off their herds, I worked to ensure that the Department of Agriculture quickly implemented the dairy provisions from the 2018 Farm Bill to provide immediate relief. I also supported fixes in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 to the MPP and provisions that provided a pathway to new insurance tools for dairy farmers. During the coronavirus pandemic, dairy producers have seen significant declines in both cash prices for dairy commodities and in dairy futures markets. I have urged the Department of Agriculture to make price loss payments to dairy producers and purchase surplus dairy products for donation to food banks and federal nutrition programs. While aid and commodity purchases were announced through the April 2020 Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), price declines and financial stress in the supply chain continue. That’s why I am working to provide additional tools and aid to help dairy producers weather the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.
- Additional reform of federal farm payments. In the 2008 Farm Bill, I worked to pass important reforms to the farm payment system, including an income cap on eligibility for commodity payments. In the 2014 Farm Bill, we made additional reforms aimed at ensuring that payments are focused on our family farmers. I continue working to make sure that federal support goes to new farmers who are often struggling to make their farms solvent and competitive in these times of low prices and export-market uncertainty. The 2014 Farm Bill also included two of my amendments to help beginning farmers and ranchers by reducing the cost of accessing crop insurance and eliminating the penalty for beginning ranchers who graze livestock on CRP acres. In the 2018 Farm Bill, I successfully included an amendment to incentivize landowners with expiring CRP acres to sell to beginning farmers.
- Providing incentives for homegrown, farm-based energy. Homegrown energy production can reduce our dependence on foreign oil while bringing jobs to our rural communities. In order to expand our homegrown energy technologies and supplies, it is important for investors to have a stable, reliable set of economic guidelines. That’s why I’m fighting to maintain a strong Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and have continually pushed back against any effort to weaken the RFS—including the granting of multiple refinery waivers by the previous Administration, some of which were granted to multi-billion-dollar oil companies. During the coronavirus pandemic, demand for fuel has decreased, and many renewable energy plants in Minnesota and across the Midwest have idled production or closed down completely. I am working to provide assistance to the biofuels industry and its workforce so that they can continue operating safely through these market disruptions and continue providing rural jobs and market opportunities for farmers.
- Opening markets for Minnesota producers. Exports are critical to the U.S. economy. In 2018, Minnesota exported over $7 billion worth of agricultural products. From 2000 to 2016, Minnesota’s total agricultural exports grew by 226 percent—higher than the national growth of 163 percent and supporting more than 57,000 jobs on and off the farm. As the former chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Export Promotion, I believe we must do everything we can to help American farmers sell more of their products in foreign markets. Exports are key to the success of our beef, pork, and turkey producers, and I will do everything I can to assist them in breaking down export barriers. I will continue to work to keep existing markets open, support fair-trade agreements, and create new opportunities for Minnesota producers. I supported the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) signed in 2018 and revised in 2019. I felt that given the agreement’s additionally negotiated pro-labor and environmental changes and its elimination of a provision that would have benefitted pharmaceutical companies at the expense of consumers, it provided much-needed stability and economic opportunity for American farmers, producers, and consumers. A North American trading bloc is also an essential strategy to competing with China on a global scale.
- Preventing catastrophic disease outbreaks. A 2015 outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) claimed nine million turkeys at 110 farms in 23 Minnesota counties. In Minnesota alone, the economic damage has been estimated at over $640 million. This outbreak showed us that we need to be doing everything we can to prevent catastrophic disease outbreaks before they start, and if we do have an outbreak, we need to be prepared. That means putting in place resources to regularly check and test animals, strengthening relationships among states and the federal government, businesses, and universities to provide rapid detection and response capabilities, and investing in the infrastructure necessary to protect against and respond to diseases that could have severe impacts on the livestock industry. That’s why I introduced the Animal Disease and Disaster Prevention, Surveillance, and Rapid Response Act, which was included in the 2018 Farm Bill. The final provisions created a new Animal Disease and Disaster Response Program and a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) vaccine bank that will help protect Minnesota farmers against the next disease outbreak.
- Helping farmers with disaster relief. Numerous external factors outside the control of farmers affect their ability to plant and harvest a crop or raise livestock. Minnesota farmers have experienced losses in the millions as a result of recent weather disasters and disease outbreaks. In order to overcome these disasters, farmers and livestock producers need permanent disaster assistance programs to continue producing the food, fiber, and fuel we all need. A permanent program means that it doesn’t take an act of Congress for farmers to get relief each time disaster strikes—help will be there when farmers need it. I have worked to authorize permanent disaster assistance programs—such as those included in the 2008 Farm Bill—that have helped Minnesota farmers recover millions in crop losses caused by disasters, and have provided support for Minnesota’s poultry and livestock producers who experience millions of dollars in losses each year due to extreme weather.
- Conserving our natural resources. Conservation programs in the Farm Bill provide the tools for farmers and ranchers in Minnesota to conserve sensitive lands and promote farming practices that reduce soil erosion and improve air and water quality. Minnesota consistently ranks as one of the top states for conservation program enrollment. The 2014 Farm Bill streamlined and protected the important conservation programs Minnesota producers use to keep our soil healthy and our water clean. The livelihood of farmers depends on clean water and healthy soils. These provisions will help ensure that our natural resources are protected for generations of Minnesotans.
- Ensuring that the nutrition needs of our most vulnerable citizens are met by our farmers. During economic downturns, including both the 2009 Great Recession and the coronavirus pandemic, the USDA nutrition programs have served as a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans. I want to ensure that this vital safety net, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is in place to provide meaningful relief to Minnesotans when it is most needed, including during the coronavirus pandemic. School nutrition programs help introduce children to new fruits and vegetables, providing healthy foods while also fostering healthier eating habits that can last a lifetime. I support farmers’ markets and other opportunities for farmers to market their products directly to Minnesotans in local restaurants and stores. I also support maintaining the nutrition title as part of the Farm Bill, because everyone benefits when we reconnect to the farmers in our communities that provide us safe, nutritious, and affordable food. The coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences have put more families and children at risk of food insecurity, which is why I worked to pass the CARES Act in March 2020 and the American Rescue Plan in March 2021. These legislative packages included additional funding to help ensure that nutrition programs can meet an increase in demand during the pandemic.
- Strengthening broadband and infrastructure in rural communities. For our rural producers and businesses to stay competitive in a global marketplace, we need the infrastructure that gives them access to foreign consumers. Broadband and high-tech advancements allow producers to sell their crops and livestock at better prices, reduce fuel and input materials to protect the environment, and provide new business and education opportunities for rural communities. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and as a co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, I have been a champion for rural broadband. I believe connecting rural areas will provide increased access to education, health care, and business opportunities.
- Meeting the housing and health care needs of rural communities. We must ensure that policy proposals for housing and health care reflect rural America’s specific needs. While many rural Americans are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, they are also often less able to access treatment, and rural hospitals and health systems often have fewer ICU beds and resources to meet an increase in demand. Many rural health care providers are facing shortages of critical resources needed to confront the coronavirus pandemic, including coronavirus tests and protective equipment. We must work to ensure that rural Minnesota has these resources, as well as the resources it needs to store, distribute, and administer coronavirus vaccines. It is our responsibility to provide rural hospitals and health care systems the support they need to respond to the pandemic and keep people safe.
As Minnesota’s U.S. senator, I’ve been fighting to keep our farms and rural communities strong and to keep our state a leader in homegrown energy:
- Supporting farmers and ranchers through the Farm Bills. I have worked to pass the last three Farm Bills—in 2008, 2014, and 2018. During consideration of each bill, I fought for provisions that strengthened the safety net for Minnesota farmers, ranchers, and livestock producers. The 2018 Farm Bill protected and expanded crop insurance to cover new crops and types of production, improved the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) risk management programs for farmers, and strengthened investments in agricultural research to support the scientific efforts that make farmers more efficient and resilient.
The 2018 Farm Bill also provided new tools to conserve land and promote clean energy and energy efficiency upgrades. The law maintained funding in the conservation title and maintained unique working lands programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The law also helps rural small businesses and farmers use renewable energy and install energy-efficiency measures in their operations.
In the 2014 Farm Bill, I worked to include a strong energy title to reduce farm utility costs. I authored an amendment included in the bill to provide an additional $100 million for the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program to help farmers, ranchers, and rural businesses lower their energy bills by installing renewable and energy-efficient technologies. In the 2018 Farm Bill, I again included an amendment that will make critical investments for many of the programs in the energy title, including REAP, the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, and the Biobased Markets Program or “Bio-Preferred.”
- Ensuring simpler and fairer tax treatment for agriculture equipment. Putting money back in the pockets of our farmers and ranchers enables them to promote economic growth and strengthen our rural communities. In 2015, I introduced a bipartisan bill with Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas that would help farmers purchase new equipment and replace worn-out machinery by amending the U.S. tax code to permanently set a five-year depreciation schedule for certain agricultural equipment. Changing the depreciation schedule to five years makes the tax code more consistent and aids rural development by increasing farm income by over $850 million a year, while helping farmers and ranchers finance new equipment and replace worn-out machinery. This provision was signed into law in December 2017. I continue to support additional measures that will help farmers and ranchers invest and grow, including extending expensing and depreciation tax provisions, which would allow businesses to write off the cost of investments in new property and equipment.
- Cutting red tape and giving a voice to farmers. I believe that if more people with a farming background were included in the decision-making process for new federal policies, we might avoid some of the regulations that have justifiably frustrated farmers in Minnesota and across the nation. I have fought hard to protect farmers from burdensome regulations, such as proposals to treat milk the same as oil when requiring spill prevention plans, to regulate dust on farm roads and driveways, and to obtain multiple identification numbers to participate in voluntary conservation programs. I introduced the Representation for Farmers Act to ensure that American farmers have a major voice in the decision-making process for environmental policies and regulations that would affect U.S. agriculture, and I successfully fought to include a version of this provision in the 2014 Farm Bill. In February 2021, I also introduced the Renewable Fuel Infrastructure Investment and Market Expansion Act, which would remove restrictive requirements for E15 fuel dispenser labeling and update outdated underground storage tank requirements to better protect our environment and facilitate access to higher blends of renewable fuels.
- Preserving and strengthening the farm safety net. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I worked to strengthen the crop insurance program and helped provide our dairy farmers greater protection from excessive market volatility in the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills. I will continue my efforts to ensure that these programs work for our farmers in times of price volatility, including during the coronavirus pandemic. I also successfully fought to extend the commodity programs in the 2008, 2014, and 2018 Farm Bills and to rebalance these programs to be more equitable to northern crops such as wheat, barley, and canola.
In addition, I introduced the bipartisan Family Farmer Relief Act with Senator Chuck Grassley, which was signed into law in 2019. As bankruptcy rates among American farmers approach record highs, this law will help farmers keep their farms, reorganize their businesses, and repay their debts.
The coronavirus pandemic is straining the financial situation of farmers and our agricultural supply chain, as farmers are confronting market volatility, severe price declines, uncertain market opportunities, and a workforce squeezed by illness. The March 2020 CARES Act included emergency relief for farmers who have experienced price losses, including livestock producers, dairy farmers, specialty crop growers, and producers who sell their commodities directly to farmers markets, schools, and restaurants. The December 2020 coronavirus relief package provided additional support for farmers, ranchers, and food supply chain workers. This law advanced many of my priorities, including measures to support small meat and poultry processors, grant the USDA authority to make relief payments to producers of renewable fuels, and provide resources for livestock and poultry producers who lost animals due to insufficient processing capacity. I was a strong supporter of the 2021 American Rescue Plan, which included $4 billion for commodity purchases for distribution to individuals in need and farm loan assistance for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
- Shoring up the dairy program. In the 2018 Farm Bill, I worked to resolve the difficulties with the Margin Protection Program (MPP) for dairy farmers. Dairy farmers are facing low prices, stagnant export growth, and declining sales that threaten their operations. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 included provisions to fix problems within the MPP and provided a pathway to new insurance tools for dairy farmers. In September 2017, I led a congressional letter to former Agriculture Secretary Perdue asking that he take steps to make milk an agricultural commodity eligible for crop insurance, and the budget deal in early 2018 included provisions to remove the arbitrary cap on dairy insurance and to allow for innovative new risk management tools for dairy farmers.
The 2018 Farm Bill included provisions to provide more coverage and more flexible tools for dairy farmers by allowing operations to cover margins up to $9.50 in the new Dairy Margin Coverage program. My energy title amendment also included a provision that allows each dairy operation that participated in the Margin Protection Program between 2014 and 2017 to receive a repayment of premiums paid over that time period as either a 50 percent direct refund or a 75 percent credit toward future premiums. After years of low prices threatened dairy farms with the prospect of needing to sell off their herds, I insisted that the Department of Agriculture worked quickly to implement the dairy provisions from the 2018 Farm Bill to provide immediate relief.
As dairy producers have experienced sharp declines in both cash prices for dairy commodities and in dairy futures markets since the coronavirus pandemic began, I have worked to ensure that dairy producers had access to dedicated disaster funding from the CARES Act and called on the Department of Agriculture to distribute that funding in an equitable way through direct payments and dairy product purchases for donation to food banks. I strongly supported the American Rescue Plan, which provides $4 billion for food and agriculture commodity purchases—including dairy products—for distribution to individuals in need.
- Incentives for homegrown, farm-based energy. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have supported increasing incentives for homegrown, farm-based energy. This includes ensuring a strong Renewable Fuel Standard, boosting biofuel innovation and deployment, as well as funding programs that allow farmers to invest in renewable energy that can create jobs and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
- Supporting a renewable fuel standard. I have pushed hard to maintain a strong Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that will help drive innovation and boost Minnesota’s economy while reducing our dependence on foreign oil. I have long led bipartisan efforts with Senator Chuck Grassley calling for a strong RFS, which have led to permanent rules that have increased overall renewable fuel volume requirements (RVOs). In 2014 and 2015, the EPA proposed changes to the RFS that would have hurt the biofuels industry by lowering the biofuels targets, discouraging investment, and reducing jobs in rural communities across the country. I successfully led bipartisan meetings of senators with former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to urge the Obama Administration to reverse the changes and maintain a strong RFS, which they did following the meeting.
The Trump Administration consistently undermined the RFS by granting refinery waivers to multi-billion-dollar oil companies. In its first three years, the Trump Administration approved 85 waivers, which reduced demand for more than 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel and caused significant harm to our farmers and our homegrown biofuels market. I called on the Trump Administration to immediately reallocate the gallons of renewable biofuel lost to these waivers and cosponsored legislation that would make changes to the refinery waiver approval process so that the application and decision-making processes are made more transparent. I have called on the Biden Administration to take bold action to support farmers and combat climate change by rejecting refinery waivers and restoring the gallons wrongfully waived by the previous Administration in future RVOs.
- Using the best research to boost biofuel use. One way to continue increasing the use of biofuels is to ensure that the EPA is accurately accounting for the emissions from ethanol and biodiesel. Recent studies have demonstrated that using corn ethanol in place of gasoline cuts greenhouse gas emissions by almost half. However, the EPA’s process for modeling emissions for the RFS has not been revised since 2010. That’s why I introduced the Adopt GREET Act with Senator Thune in February 2021 to direct the EPA to update its modeling to reflect the latest science.
- Increasing ethanol and biodiesel availability. I have consistently pushed to make ethanol and biodiesel more readily available to American consumers at the gas pump. I cosponsored the Energy Independence and Security Act, which included provisions to install ethanol and biodiesel pumps in gas stations across the country. In addition, my Right to Retail Renewable Fuels amendment to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 helped to ensure that new fuels can come to market by preventing oil companies from using their market power to stop gas stations from selling renewable fuels.
- Expanding biofuel infrastructure. I also advocated for Minnesota to receive funds to expand biofuel infrastructure. In 2016, Minnesota received $8 million in federal funding to install blender pumps for biofuels at fueling stations. The investment boosted local economies across our state, gave drivers more choices at the pump, and reduced dependence on foreign oil. In addition, I introduced the Renewable Fuel Infrastructure Investment and Market Expansion Act in February 2021 with Senator Joni Ernst to create a permanent biofuels infrastructure program at the Department of Agriculture and expand the availability of low-carbon renewable fuels in the marketplace.
- Supporting next generation biofuels. I have led efforts in the Senate Agriculture Committee to move the nation toward the next generation of biofuels—cellulosic ethanol made from dedicated energy crops like prairie grass and alfalfa, as well as from agricultural residues and wood chips. Working with former Senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, I authored the Farm-to-Fuel Investment Act, which was included in the Energy Title of the 2008 Farm Bill. The bill offers incentives to farmers to grow dedicated energy crops on marginal farmland.
- Addressing idle production during the pandemic. As demand for fuel has decreased during the coronavirus pandemic, many renewable energy plants in Minnesota and across the Midwest have idled production or closed down completely, resulting in laid-off workers and halted purchases of feedstocks like corn, soybeans, and sorghum. That’s why I am working to provide assistance to the biofuels industry and its workforce so that they can continue operating safely through these disruptions and continue providing rural jobs and opportunities for farmers.
- Opening markets for Minnesota producers. I favor doing all we can to make it easier to assist our farmers and rural communities in exporting products, including raw and processed agricultural commodities and other manufactured goods. I have worked to ensure that we have a functional export-import bank and fair trade agreements. I led the bill to lift the embargo with Cuba. I also have worked with a bipartisan group of senators to make market access for U.S. agriculture producers a priority in the resolution of non-tariff trade barriers meant to discriminate against U.S. products and for the favorable treatment of U.S. agriculture products in trade agreements with other countries. I successfully fought to pressure China to reopen its markets to American pork, beef, and poultry products. I have also pushed Japan to reopen its market to U.S. beef and led a bipartisan group of senators in calling on South Africa and South Korea to address non-scientific trade barriers that are limiting our turkey exports. In November 2017, I led a letter with Congressman Tom Emmer to the former President, urging him to consider the impact that a reduction in engagement with South Korea would have on Minnesota’s farmers. South Korea is the fourth largest market for Minnesota agricultural exports by total value.
- Preventing catastrophic disease outbreaks. During the avian influenza outbreak in 2015, I worked hard to ensure that our farmers had the assistance they needed to deal with the crisis and recover. I introduced the Animal Disease and Disaster Prevention, Surveillance, and Rapid Response Act, which was included in the 2018 Farm Bill. The final provisions created a new Animal Disease and Disaster Response Program and a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) bank that will help protect Minnesota farmers against the next disease outbreak.
- Helping farmers with disaster relief. I worked to secure the first-ever permanent livestock disaster assistance program in the 2008 Farm Bill. Since 2008, this program has helped Minnesota farmers recover millions in crop losses caused by disasters and has provided support for Minnesota’s poultry and livestock producers who experience millions of dollars in losses each year due to extreme weather. In the 2014 Farm Bill, I fought to ensure that the disaster programs for our livestock producers were fully funded. I have also worked to expand and strengthen programs like the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), which provide cattle producers assistance for livestock deaths caused by snowstorms, excessive heat, and other adverse weather.
When severe weather caused flooding in 2019, I worked to pass the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP) and the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program-Plus (WHIP+) in order to provide disaster funding. These programs provided relief to producers who suffered losses from drought or excessive moisture in 2018 and 2019.
- Conserving our natural resources. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I worked to streamline the conservation programs in the 2014 Farm Bill. I supported efforts to create a compromise on conservation compliance that would extend conservation protections to the crop insurance program and worked to ensure that a “Sodsaver” provision to protect native prairie was included in the bill. I introduced bipartisan legislation to expand the Sodsaver provision nationwide and remove program loopholes. I continue to fight against cuts to conservation programs and to ensure that savings from these programs are reinvested in successful Minnesota programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. I supported increasing the number of acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to 27 million acres in the 2018 Farm Bill and creating a pilot program to study innovative approaches to improve soil health and carbon sequestration.
I introduced the Agriculture Data Act, which was modified and included in the 2018 Farm Bill with Senator Thune of South Dakota to direct the USDA to collect, collate, integrate, and link data relating to the impacts of conservation practices on enhancing crop yields, improving soil health, reducing risk, and improving profitability. Our bill would establish a secure conservation and farm productivity data warehouse, as well as procedures to protect the integrity and confidentiality of proprietary producer data. The resulting research and analysis will be disseminated to producers in a manner that makes it easy for them to utilize the information to enhance conservation benefits and increase profitability. The final 2018 Farm Bill directs the secretary to identify the available data sets within the USDA regarding the use of conservation practices and report on their effect on farm and ranch profitability. In October 2020, the USDA began a pilot program based on the 2018 Farm Bill provision that combines data from several USDA agencies to assess how conservation practices like cover crops helped reduce flooding and improved yields. To improve access to the USDA’s voluntary conservation programs, I introduced a bill with Republican Senator John Boozman from Arkansas that would remove burdensome annual reporting requirements for farmers who want to improve conservation practices on their farms. The bill was included in the 2018 omnibus appropriations act.
- Getting nutritious farm produce to our most vulnerable citizens. Programs that purchase fresh produce from local farmers to supply school lunches and support families in need are a win-win for Minnesota. The Farm Bill provides a strong safety net through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). In 2008, 2014, and 2018, I pushed for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which helps introduce children to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as programs that fund the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables for school lunches.
I also helped lead the passage of the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law in 2010, to overhaul the major domestic food assistance programs that serve the nutritional needs of 29 million American children each day. I worked with my colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee to pass a bipartisan reauthorization of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2016, which would preserve these important reforms while giving local school districts the flexibility they need to continue feeding our kids.
I have urged the Department of Agriculture to make price loss payments to farmers and purchase surplus commodities for donation to food banks and federal nutrition programs. With many children out of school and taking classes remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, I worked to include more funding for the Department of Agriculture’s child nutrition programs in the March 2020 CARES Act. In April 2020, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) provided $19 billion in relief for our farmers, food supply chain, and families in need, including funding for livestock producers, row crop producers, and specialty crops. I supported the March 2021 American Rescue Plan, which extended the 15 percent increase in SNAP funding during the pandemic and increased resources for food programs like CSFP that provide critical support to seniors.
- Strengthening broadband and infrastructure in rural communities. I have fought to extend access to affordable, reliable broadband because in 2021, every American should have access to high-speed internet regardless of Zip code. I have also fought to improve Minnesota’s infrastructure, working to include core programs in the Farm Bill that provide vital support for building and maintaining wastewater facilities, loan guarantees, and grants for rural businesses and manufacturers to grow and expand.
- Connecting our rural communities. I have worked with Senator Thune of South Dakota to call on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to modernize rules intended to ensure that Americans in rural areas have access to affordable broadband services. With the support of 59 senators, we successfully pressured the FCC to update these rules in March 2016. In February 2018, the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act that I introduced with Senators Thune and Tester was signed into law. The bill directs the FCC to establish basic quality standards for providers that transmit voice calls to help ensure businesses, families, and emergency responders can count on phone calls being completed. I introduced the bipartisan Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act, legislation to require the Secretary of Commerce to conduct a study of the effects of broadband deployment and adoption on the U.S. economy, which passed the Senate in June 2019.
In March 2020, legislation that I introduced with Senators Wicker, Peters, and Thune—the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act—was signed into law. This legislation will improve the FCC’s broadband data collection process to create more accurate broadband coverage maps and help ensure that the funds for broadband deployment go to the communities that need it most. In December 2020, the year-end omnibus bill included $65 million funding to implement the Broadband DATA Act. I also introduced legislation with Senator Wicker to direct the FCC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the USDA to coordinate and share information on their broadband deployment efforts so that federal funds are used effectively to target both the unserved and underserved. Our bill was signed into law in December 2020. I introduced legislation to help ensure college students with the greatest financial needs at Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs) were connected to critical internet services during the pandemic. The December 2020, year-end omnibus bill also included $285 million in funding for college students with the greatest financial need based on my bill. In March 2021, I joined House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) in introducing comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation—the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act—to invest over $90 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities to close the digital divide.
- Access to precision agriculture technology. As agriculture increasingly relies on precision technology, we need to give farmers and ranchers the tools they need to take advantage of new technologies and improve their businesses, reduce costs, and improve crop yields. That’s why I joined Senator Roger Wicker to introduce the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act to identify gaps in coverage and encourage broadband deployment on farms and ranchlands. Our legislation was signed into law as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. Precision agriculture technology helps farmers boost yields and be more environmentally efficient but only if they have access to reliable broadband. The 2018 Omnibus Budget Act, which was signed into law in March 2018, contained an additional $600 million for dedicated broadband funding as well as my bills to encourage wireless carriers to work with rural or smaller carriers to increase wireless broadband access in rural communities and to cut red tape by ensuring that states coordinate highway construction projects with broadband providers so that broadband infrastructure can be installed at the same time—known as “dig once.”
- Infrastructure plans that help rural communities. As a member of the Commerce and Agriculture committees, I have long supported leveraging both direct funding and public-private partnerships to rebuild and reinvest in our infrastructure. One bipartisan idea I’ve been working on is to create an infrastructure bank that would help increase private sector infrastructure spending. It would also direct funding to projects in rural areas so that smaller communities can make much-needed infrastructure improvements. This type of innovative financing tool could jumpstart critical projects in Minnesota and across the country. But we can’t rely on public-private partnerships alone to fund projects. Direct federal funding is essential, especially in rural America, where federal dollars help maintain and upgrade infrastructure that attracts investment and helps communities stay competitive. I have also pushed to ensure financing mechanisms stay in place that help rural communities upgrade aging wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.
- Addressing rail issues. As I travel across Minnesota, I continue to hear from agricultural producers who are experiencing rail service delays, including backlogs on orders for rail cars and shipping delays once cars are loaded with cargo. The results are lost sales, involuntary shutdowns at processing facilities, and disruption to agriculture markets. Reliable and affordable rail service is critical for providing our agriculture producers access to markets beyond our state’s borders. Overall, the U.S. exported almost $140 billion in farm products in 2017. As the fourth largest agricultural exporting state in the country, Minnesota contributes substantially to these export numbers. We must be sure we have the transportation networks to get our agricultural exports to our trading partners. That’s why in 2015 Senator Thune and I asked the USDA to conduct a comprehensive economic analysis on how rail service challenges are impacting agricultural producers, crop prices, basis levels, agricultural exports, food prices, and other agricultural end-users, including food processors, livestock producers, and ethanol refiners. And as a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I pushed railroad companies to address these service delays. I also successfully urged the Surface Transportation Board to collect additional data on rail performance to increase transparency and improve service.
I have additionally worked to require the railroad industry to play by the same antitrust rules as other industries. I introduced the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act to remove the railroad industry’s obsolete exemption from the antitrust laws. More competitive pricing for “captive shippers” with access to only one rail company will help ensure that farmers and rural businesses can move their products as quickly and affordably as possible. In March 2021, I sent a letter with Senator Thune to the chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission in support of investigations into reports that certain vessel-operating common carriers were denying carriage for agricultural commodities and calling for the Commission to quickly resolve the issue.
- Meeting the housing and health care needs of rural communities. Rural communities face unique economic needs, and we must ensure that we give them the necessary tools they need to thrive. I have fought for funding for rural housing, including funding for the rural rental assistance program, rural housing construction funding, and loans for elderly homeowners for home repairs and improvements that remove health and safety hazards. I have worked to make healthcare more accessible in rural Minnesota by supporting critical access to hospitals, championing proposals to bring down rural health insurance rates with cost-sharing reductions and reinsurance, and leading the successful effort to extend the Conrad 30 program. This program allows international doctors trained in the United States to extend their stay in the country if they agree to practice in underserved communities. I also led several bipartisan bills to bring down the costs of prescription drugs.
Rural America has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic and a recent rise in the use of methamphetamine. That’s why I led the effort to pass landmark bipartisan legislation in 2016, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which encourages states and local communities to pursue a full array of proven strategies in the fight against addiction, including expanding access to naloxone among law enforcement and other first responders. I have also introduced the CARA 2.0 Act with a bipartisan group of senators to build on the momentum of CARA by increasing funding and putting in place additional policy reforms to combat the opioid epidemic. The 2018 Omnibus Budget Act, which was signed into law on March 23, 2018, contained over $3 billion in additional funding. I will continue fighting for additional funds and resources to help communities combat addiction.