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How to Keep 'Em on the Farm
By Michael Khoo
August 31, 1999
Part of MPR Online's "Trouble on the Farm" project.
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Minnesota Senators Paul Wellstone and Rod Grams appeared together last night to discuss the state's farm crisis. The two participated in a Minnesota Citizens' Forum where they were joined by representatives of the Ventura administration.

MINNESOTA'S SENATORS, - polar political opposites in most respects - did find one point of agreement. As Senator Wellstone put it, low commodity prices are pushing many farmers to bankruptcy. In his mind, that made the appropriate course of action crystal clear.
Wellstone: It's not true we don't know what to do. We do know what to do. It's a price crisis and you're going to have to take the cap off the loan rate, and people are going to have admit that the "Freedom to Farm" has been Freedom to Fail. People don't have to say, "I voted the wrong way." I don't care, because there can be honest disagreement. But there's going to have to be a correction, there's going to have to be a modification, there's going to have to be a change. And it's going to have to be done now.
Grams acknowledged low crop prices are the crux of the problem for many rural Minnesotans. But he argued pushing prices up artificially - rather than letting the market operate - would ultimately fail.
Grams: We can talk about raising the price, but we can distort the markets in doing it. The one thing we don't want to do is price our commodities out of the world market and have these huge surpluses begin to back up even more. So we can raise the price, but it would be very short-term help and long term disaster.
The federal government is expected to approve more than $7 billion in farm relief later this month. But all participants agreed that money would not solve long-term, structural problems in the rural economy. Minnesota Planning Director Dean Barkley represented the Ventura administration. He said extending telecommunications infrastructure to rural Minnesota would bring more economic choice to outstate residents.
Barkley: We have to make sure that the private sector goes out and connects all of Minnesota. And if they don't, we have to go in there and fill in the gap so businesses can move. All your new high-paying businesses are going to be - most of them - linked to telecommunications. And if rural Minnesota doesn't have that infrastructure, they are not going to develop it.
And Wellstone seconded the idea.
Wellstone: I really like the idea of connecting up a lot of hard working people who work with numbers. We're now telecommuting, we've got information technology companies that are growing. And I think there's way of having that marriage. But that's no substitute for fighting for family farms.
Grams suggested long-term aid should consist of crop insurance reform, more favorable trade agreements, and eliminating the estate and capital gains taxes.