Congressman Pete Stauber meets with ag leaders in Wadena
Agriculture leaders from the region attended a roundtable discussion with 8th District Rep. Pete Stauber R-Duluth, March 19 at M-State in Wadena.
The congressman took this opportunity to open a free form dialogue with area farmers about the prevalent issues in the region.
The discussion opened with the 2018 Farm Bill and how new legislation will be implemented. It didn't take long for the hardships facing modern farmers to take center stage. Mental health was a prime concern shared by many in attendance. Several people opened up about personal experiences and how the harsh career can wear heavily on an individual. The mental strain is exacerbated by the lack of resources available to farmers. Some complained that resources do exist but no one is there to take the call. People have no one to talk to, no one to confide in.
Local farmer, Tim Nolte spoke of his past troubles within the industry. Years ago he had to sell his dairy cows, something that took a great emotional toll on him.
"I miss them every day," said Nolte. Nolte pushed for better mental health support for farmers. If a mental health professional can't be reached, then calls should be diverted to a local pastor, according to Nolte.
Stauber was sympathetic to the unmet mental health needs of farmers. He was well aware of the economic downturn in the industry which has many farmers reeling in mental anguish. "That's not right, the door has to be open," said Stauber in response Nolte. The congressman went on to explain that one in five people will experience mental health problems, something he was all too familiar with from his 23 years in law enforcement. The isolation felt by farmers is unacceptable, according to Stauber.
Talks of mental health support evolved into a larger discussion of healthcare. Bryan Klabunde, Vice President of the Minnesota Farmers Union candidly spoke about his troubles with the ailing health care system available for farmers. He told Stauber about his elderly father who was recently diagnosed with pneumonia. Due to complications associated with insurance, it was extremely difficult to get him the appropriate care in a timely fashion. The mounting cost of care also being a prime factor. Farmers often times do not have access to adequate health care. Farmers in the area would love nothing more then to live and work solely on their farm. Unfortunately, a member of the family usually has to find employment off the farm in order to provide better healthcare, making the farming business all the more challenging. Klabunde passionately made the case for health care reform of some kind. An idea that was met with much approval from his peers. Some cited that deductibles were far to high making insurance almost a pointless expense.
Talks of trade and environmental preparedness took up a large section of the hour long talk. Essentially, political changes on a national scale have a profound effect on farmers big and small. Issues with other countries "cheating" was a primary concern. Stauber made it clear that the current administration needs to hold other nations accountable for bad trade, firmly stating they will not turn a blind eye.
Additionally, environmental preparedness in regard to flooding was on the minds of those in attendance. The quickness of the thaw has some industries on edge. The soybean growers were predicting the impact the flooding would have on fertilizer producers. Transportation problems caused by flooding would require more resources. More trucks will need to be in circulation to meet the demands of the agriculture industry. They sent a strong message, which Stauber promised would be relayed directly to the governor.
The final agenda item focused on gray wolves. The hotly debated environmental topic was met with a great deal of support. The farmers and agriculture workers seemed to be in ardent support of delisting the animal from the endangered species list. They explained how the animals population had recovered and no longer requires special protection under the law. They blamed the animal for killing livestock and for a drop in indigionous species numbers. They urged Stauber to talk with Congressman Collin Peterson about the wolves before making any decisions.
"We want farmers to know we care," said Stauber. The congressman stressed the need to represent farmers on a fair and balanced socio economic playing field. To him, they are experts in the field and their insight should play a major role in dictating legislation. He also spoke of the importance of meetings like this roundtable discussion, it's an opportunity for him to keep learning new things about Minnesota. "I'm a perpetual learner," said Stabuer several times throughout the meeting.