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Carver County Hosts Farm Rally
By Tim Post
August 23, 1999

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About 700 farmers gathered at the Carver County Fairgrounds in Waconia this weekend for "Rural Crisis Accountability Day." The rally gave agriculture and labor officials - along with politicians and clergy - a chance to air potential solutions for the current crisis in agriculture.

A CATTLE BARN at the Carver County fairgrounds in Waconia overflowed this weekend with farmers. They came not for a fair, but for Rural Crisis Accountability Day, a rally-type meeting to raise awareness about the agriculture crisis.

Rally organizers said the purpose of the gathering was to quote "put Unity back in Community." Dozens of state legislators jumped onto an old hay wagon to kick off the event. They preached about fair prices, and changes in policy to save the family farm. Labor officials were also there to fire up the crowd. Bernard Brummer, President of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, reminded the group that this wasn't just a rural issue.

Brummer: This isn't as the sign says, a rural crisis. It's not a farm crisis, if you'll indulge my disagreement with the signs, This is America's crisis!
And of course, lawmakers took the chance to tell farmers what they think needs to be done to end that crisis. Democratic Representative David Minge said it's time to make changes in the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act. He said there were good parts of the act, like the freedom to plant what farmers want, but he said the lack of a safety net is what makes the law unworkable. Minge said Congress needed to write tougher antitrust laws and support cooperatives to make them successful.

And the Minnesota congressman also said there was only so much politicians could do; farmers need to get together and let Washington know how they feel.

Minge: Get together after this meeting, plan how Minnesota can have 500 people out in Washington to protest what's going on. And plan how we can have an equal number from a dozen other states. And if we can do that, I can tell you that we will get action by this fall, action that gives us hope for the future.
U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone echoed the call for change to the Freedom to Farm Act. Wellstone traveled around the state last week, speaking with preacherlike enthusiasm, in an effort to get farmers fired up. The senator continued his raucous appeal to the crowd in Waconia.
Wellstone: We need to the cap off the loan rate, we need to get the price up, we need to have farmer-owned reserves, we need to extend the payment period, we need antitrust action, we need fair agreement, and we are going to fight for it - we're gonna fight for it, that's why we are here today.
Wellstone's Republican Counterpart Senator Rod Grams didn't make it to the weekend farm rally. But Grams also spent last week traveling around the state talking to farmers about the crisis. In his stops, Grams criticized the Democrats' attack on freedom to farm, and said it wasn't to blame for the poor agriculture economy. The senator said freedom to farm just needed more time to succeed. And said the agriculture economy would improve through trade deals with foreign countries. A free-market system, according to Grams, is better than relying on government support.
Regardless of what solutions politicians have, some in the rally audience said they don't expect much to be done.
Al Shaller: Well, it's a nice rally and nice speakers, but something's got to be done, not just talk.
Shaller raises soybeans near Mankato. He believes lawmakers when they say they want better prices in the agriculture industry, but he says doesn't think they'll deliver on their good intentions.
Shaller: It not just them, it has to be all of Congress, you know. The president has to sign it and so forth. That's pretty hard to do, to get it all done, so soon. But its something to that needs to get done.
Shaller isn't the only farmer who thinks Congress won't be able to improve prices. A farmer from Hutchinson, who gave his name only as "Red," expressed general disdain for how he believes Washington will deal with the crisis.
Red: When they make a law, they package it, they even put toilet paper in there, some other kind of crap they put it in their to get it passed. They put so much stuff in to pass a law, I'll tell you one thing, this is such a serious mess, if they don't take care of this I'm afraid we are going to lose our democracy.
Congress won't be able to do anything with farm policy until their summer recess is over. In September, Congress is expected to look at a proposed 7.4-billion-dollar relief package. Farmers hope something is done soon, until then, they will continue to hold rallies like this one - a similar rally was held Sunday in Des Moines. More than a dozen others are scheduled around the Midwest in the near future.