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'Don't forget about us': Farmers rally for better prices, steps to buffer trade war impact on agriculture

Melissa Sobolik of the Great Plains Food Bank speaks about the importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program during the 2018 Rally for Agriculture on Wednesday, June 27, 2018, at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in West Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 2
Farm supporters attend the 2018 Rally for Agriculture on Wednesday, June 27, 2018, at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in West Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 2

WEST FARGO — Farmers, confronting slumping crop prices that don't cover the cost of production and finding themselves pawns in an escalating trade war, rallied hours ahead of an appearance by President Donald Trump to deliver a message.

"We need to tell them we need a price that will let us make a living on the farm," Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, said at a rally of farmers at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds on Wednesday, June 27.

The rally for agriculture was not billed as a protest, and speakers never mentioned Trump's name from the podium, but the administration's policies, especially regarding trade and ethanol, were prominent themes in farmers' impassioned speeches.

If farmers are to be caught in the middle of a trade war, with other countries imposing retaliatory tariffs on U.S. farm commodities, the Trump administration must keep its promise to protect the nation's farmers, Watne said.

"We need to hold them to the promise that we'll be held harmless," he said, arousing applause from a crowd of about 150 farmers who took a break from field work to attend.

Soybean prices have recently slid $2 per bushel and corn and wheat prices each have dropped $1 per bushel, said Randy Richards, who farms near Hope, N.D. Meanwhile, farmers equipment and operating costs are going up, placing growers in a financial squeeze.

Richards, who serves on the board of a bank, said many farmers have negative operating capital, a precarious financial position that could result in a wave of farm auctions next spring or summer if steps aren't taken soon to help farmers.

"We haven't got time to wait," Richards said, calling for swift action by policymakers, including passing a new farm bill. "Let's fix this."

"People in the city, you need us," he said, echoing a theme of many speakers who pointed out that American farmers provide an abundant supply of cheap food. "Don't forget about us."

Tractors and grain-hauling semis provided a visual backdrop to the rally site near the grandstand at the fairgrounds, a five-mile drive from Scheels Arena, where Trump was to appear hours later on Wednesday to stump for Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

Farmers — who have seen farm income plunge by more than half and could see their income drop another 30 percent this year — also are saddled with rising interest costs for their operating loans.

Another threat could come if the Trump administration follows through with a proposal to reduce the renewable fuels standard for ethanol — a step that would reduce demand for corn, now a major crop in North Dakota.

The rally was organized by the North Dakota Farmers Union, North Dakota Dairy Council, Great Plains Food Bank and Minnesota Farmers Union. Other farm groups were notified of the rally and told they'd be welcome to participate, Watne said.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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