Commentary: Summer 2020, An Unusual Challenge
An unusual challenge. That is what comes to mind when I reflect back on my Summer 2020 focus on Southern Missouri Agriculture. Visiting all 30 counties across what makes up the 8th Congressional District during the normal Congressional August break in voting has been a tradition I have carried on since becoming your Representative in the United States Congress. It is during these visits that I get to hear directly from our area farmers, families, and small businesses about what new challenges they are facing and how I can best help. The ideas, solutions and creativity generated gives me a new list every Fall to bring back to Washington to explain what we need to do to make the lives of our nation’s farmers easier so that they can work their land and bring their goods to market with greater ease and lower costs.
When faced with a global pandemic, I knew this year’s visits would be different, but nonetheless I felt them important to do. I still wanted to hear directly from those who make their living farming Southern Missouri. I wanted to better understand the new challenges producers are facing in the wake of market disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak as well as the impacts of new opportunities born out of new and improved trade agreements negotiated by President Trump. I wanted to hear their assessment of their livelihood under year three of President Trump in the White House. That’s a story you just can’t get from a lobbyist in Washington. To get the real facts, you have to stand next to someone trying to make ends meet by working the land on their family farm day in and day out in rural Missouri. Anyone telling you different is simply trying to take the easy way out.
I am always overwhelmed by the diversity in agriculture we have here in southern Missouri. This year alone I saw everything from a Dairy Transport operation in Texas County to the expansive rice, soybean and cotton fields in our bootheel region. We saw a fish farm over in Stoddard County and even a farm in Advance that supplies the grass turf to our World Champion Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. I saw a 400 head goat operation in Lodi which uses its goats to help further research on treatments for terrible diseases in humans like Cancer. I even saw our growing Missouri tourism on full display in Perryville with the unveiling of an 11,000 square foot American Tractor Museum, something sure to bring additional visitors to our area.
Most importantly, I was able to hear about some of the challenges facing the farmers who call our area home. During stops at farms and small businesses in Madison, Dunklin, Reynolds and others, we talked about the lack of access to reliable broadband internet access. Not a day goes by that I am not talking to someone about the need to build out better broadband access in rural Missouri. With more businesses, schools and resources being put online during this pandemic, it’s critically important we make the investments needed in broadband for our area. I was able to bring the Federal Communications Chairman to our area a few years ago to show him the problem first hand and since then millions have poured into Missouri to help deliver access, but more must be done. Rural America cannot be left behind at this crucial time, our farmers are the best in the world, but we need to make sure they have reliable internet access to keep up with the changing demands and technology being introduced year after year.
In Douglas and Bollinger Counties we discussed our shared frustration with the large meat packing conglomerates impacting prices. We need to make sure our farmers are getting a fair price for their meat. Given all of the concerning practices from large beef packers, I’ve expressed to the Trump Administration that they should fully investigate the actions of these companies. I’m also working on legislation to incentivize cattle co-ops by allowing producers to work together and establish their own packing facilities so they can complete for a better price in the marketplace.
At Rance Daniels Farm in Dunklin County and Patrick Turnage Farms in Pemiscot, along with stops in St Genevieve, New Madrid and others, we talked about China’s commitment to buy more U.S. grown commodities under the Phase One Trade Deal. China has agreed to buy a record $80 billion in U.S. Agriculture and in July China made its largest ever purchase of U.S. grown corn. The Phase One agreement with China was a big deal, but now we have to make sure they actually follow through on that agreement. I recently led a group of half a dozen farming focused Members of Congress who oversee the President’s trade agenda in calling on the White House to prioritize holding China accountable to their commodity purchase commitments in the deal.
At West Crest Farms in St. Francois we discussed frustration with the Obama-era Hours of Service Regulation which was causing those hauling livestock to often pull over from the road for long periods, endangering the very livestock they were trying to safely transport. This is just one example of the thousands upon thousands of federal regulations unleashed during the Obama – Biden years which not only hurt our farmers, but also ultimately drove up prices for consumers. In 2016, during my summer farm stops, I started compiling a list of all the regulations our farmers said were hurting their business. I thought the list might come in handy if Trump was to win the White House. Sure enough, a few months after he was elected, I was able to give the list to his transition team. Within his first months in office President Trump repealed over half of those I gave him, and he hasn’t stopped since. Government red tape, written by a bureaucrat who has never stepped foot in Missouri is everything which is wrong in Washington. The President has eased that burden to the tune of saving Missouri families over $15,000 a year in unnecessary government regulatory costs – on everything from the milk they buy to the gas they pump.
At stops in the bootheel, we discussed the expensive land and equipment costs involved in cotton and rice farming and how the U.S. Tax Code should not hurt farmers trying to invest in their farm. Namely we discussed how President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was now allowing farmers to recover the costs of equipment investments in year one versus year 10 or 20. We also discussed passing these farms along from one generation to the next. All too often I hear of farmers socked with a massive tax from the federal government simply for trying to keep a farm in the family when a loved one passes on. That’s not right, and it is why I have introduced legislation to completely abolish the death tax. It’s already hard enough to lose a family member, the federal government shouldn’t be trying to take advantage of that by taking more of your hard-earned money.
Whether its reducing farming taxes, making investments in broadband internet or fixing the crumbling roads, bridges and ports our farmers rely upon, we have to keep our farmers competitive and ahead of the rest of the world. These summer visits are an important component of hearing exactly what is needed to stay ahead of that competitive curve. Hearing directly about the challenges our farmers, families, and small businesses are facing and the exchange of ideas about how I can help are what these stops are all about. I return to Washington with new ideas, solutions and issues to raise to ensure rural America prospers so that our farmers can continue doing what they do best, work their land to provide for their families without government in the way.