Farmers Union leaders meet with policy makers in Washington

HURON, S.D. (Press Release) – Presidents of South Dakota and North Dakota Farmers Union, met with policy makers in D.C. to discuss commodity transportation costs, crop insurance alternatives and renewable fuels on behalf of family farmers and ranchers.

“Times are tough throughout production agriculture, so we are working to do what we can to make a positive impact on policy for our family farmers and ranchers,” said Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union President.

Sombke explained that whether a family’s income relies on crops, livestock or a combination of crops and livestock, 2019 low market prices, combined with extreme weather events have a lot of farmers and ranchers anxious over the sustainability of their business.

“We’re looking at the third season of market prices that make it nearly impossible to bring home profits,” explained Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde farmer.

Sombke was joined by North Dakota Farmers Union President, Mark Watne. During their time in D.C., the leaders met with the Service Transportation Board to discuss concerns related to increased commodity shipping costs.

“Rail transportation is becoming a large expense for farm operations, and farmers have no tools to pass this expense on. We met with the Surface Transportation Board today to get oversight on the monopolistic practices the rail industry is using, now that we only have four major rail companies in the U.S.,” explained Watne, who raises wheat, soybeans, canola and corn.

Sombke, together with South Dakota Farmers Union member, Craig Blindert, a Salem farmer and crop insurance agent, met with Natural Resource Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency (RMA) staff as well as congressional leaders to advocate for Inventory Management Soil Enhancement Tool (IMSET). A farmer-led solution to poor markets, IMSET was developed by Blindert and tested by North Dakota State University economics professors. The men urged the organizations to consider IMSET, which incentivizes soil health building, as a product for RMA to release to farmers to use alongside crop insurance.

“The feedback we received was positive. Those we spoke with appreciated our outside-the-box thinking,” Sombke said.

During their meetings with congressional leaders, Sombke, Watne and Chris Christiaens, Montana Farmers Union Special Projects Director, requested their congressional leaders speak up for the disaster needs of family farmers and ranchers, and request financial assistance.

They also discussed recent Environmental Protection Agency interpretation of RVP rule. “Not only does it have a negative impact on the air we all breath, but it has a negative impact on the family farmers who depend upon ethanol demand for the corn they raise, but it has a huge impact on air quality,” Sombke said. “Higher ethanol blends means cleaner-burning fuel with fewer carcinogens. And, ethanol actually makes gasoline better.”

Looking back on the time spent in D.C., Sombke is encouraged. “I appreciated our meeting with Senator Rounds, he gets it when it comes to ethanol and gasoline blends. In fact, all the meetings were productive networking opportunities – perhaps we are one meeting closer to solutions that will have a positive impact on the family farmers and ranchers we serve.”