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U.S. House Agriculture Committee chairman visits Minnesota

Noah Hultgren (right), the president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association, points out different parts of a farm machinery to Mike Conaway (left), U.S. House Agriculture Committee chairman, Saturday, July 30, at the Hultgren Farms in rural Raymond, Minnesota. (Briana Sanchez / West Central Tribune)

WILLMAR — When he works on the federal 2018 Farm Bill, U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway says he will be thinking about moms on food stamps and how changes in farm policy will affect their food costs.

Conaway, R-Texas, chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, visited Minnesota late last week. One of his stops was at Hultgren Farms in rural Raymond, just west of Willmar Saturday afternoon.

Conaway said he looks forward to working with U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the ranking minority member on the committee on the next Farm Bill.

Peterson was with Conaway on his tour until mid-day Saturday, when he left to participate in the Olivia Corn Capital Days parade.

Conaway told the group at Hultgren Farms that he and Peterson, both certified public accountants, are friends and work well together.

Farmers and those working in related industries can help the committee in its work by telling their stories, he said.

"We've got to figure out a way to enlist urban Americans into the fight for a good solid production agriculture safety net," he said. "They benefit at the grocery store and every time they go to a restaurant. They pay less for food than any other developed country in world."

He urged farmers to tell the story "over and over and over, and then you've got to tell it some more."

People in urban areas "don't know what a good deal they're getting off your hard work, your sweat equity and your risk-taking." It's right to provide a safety net for farmers when times are bad, he added.

Conaway said his concern with any change in food policy is how it affects food prices.

He isn't concerned about people who could afford higher prices, he said, but about people with low incomes, who may spend 35 percent of their disposable income on food

He used an example of a mother feeding her family. The food budget may be the most flexible, because rent or house payments and car payments don't change. If emergency money is needed, it often comes out of the food budget.

The nation has 45 million people on food stamps, Conaway said. Before changes in policy are made, he said, the potential change in food costs must be considered.

"I'm worried about that mom who can't defend herself against an increase in price because policy makers in a capricious way decided to raise the cost of food," he said.

Conaway, of Midland, Texas, said his background was not in agriculture, and when he was appointed to the agriculture committee he promised his constituents he would consult experts and learn as much as he could about agriculture. When he became chairman a couple years ago, he continue to expand his knowledge.

Each sector of the agricultural economy has different interests, he said, While the Agriculture Committee works in a bipartisan manner, he said, there are sometimes "family squabbles" about how to handle different sectors.

His visit to Minnesota allowed his to see his first sugar beet fields and a variety of other crops. He toured the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville and visited two ethanol plants, the first he'd seen.

"I'm trying to expand the breadth of my knowledge," he said. He also attended a Minnesota Twins game and saw them win.

"It's a lot greener than what I expected," he said of Minnesota's farm country. "There's casual water everywhere; you don't really see that in West Texas."

Conaway was hosted by Noah Hultgren, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. Many other industry representatives attended.

Kevin Paap, president of Minnesota Farm Bureau, said it was an honor for the state to have the House Agriculture Committee chairman visit the state and district of the committee's ranking member.

Paap, who farms in Blue Earth County, said he's seen the way committee members work together, and he appreciates it. "There's not enough of us in agriculture," he said. "We can't be fighting in the family."

His next goal will be to get the chairman to come back, possibly next year, to make an appearance at FarmFest.

Chad Willis, chairman of the MinnesotaCorn Research & Promotion Council, said he hoped Conaway would leave with a better understanding of the state's ethanol industry and how its agriculture varies from what he's used to seeing.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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