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Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016

Emerson visits local farm

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Jo Ann Emerson discusses farm issues with Scott Wheeler, Justin Landers and Jason Landers.
SIKESTON -- A handful of farmers and others involved in agriculture stood around a shop on a farm just west of Sikeston visiting Monday morning. One may think it was a morning or weekly routine, with all of them chatting and discussing current events related to both agriculture and their every day lives.

But there was a bit more anticipation in the air, with the group waiting for Eighth District U.S. Representative Jo Ann Emerson to arrive at the Jennings Farm, owned by brothers Tom and Dan, to kick off her 25th annual farm tour.

Upon her arrival, they would have a forum on agricultural issues, namely concerning the Farm Bill, which is scheduled to expire in September 2007.

Myron Hawes, who farms just south of Sikeston, said he is pleased with the tour, which he has attended for the past few years. "It helps educate the general public about agricultural issues," he said.

Emerson frequently brings along a fellow representative from an urban area to the farm tour, regardless of their political affiliation, Hawes pointed out. "It's a great way to inform fellow congressional members about the needs throughout the states," he said.

Emerson has visited the Jennings Farm several times. One thing Tom Jennings likes best about the stops is being able to visit with neighbors and share opinions about different issues, including some like stem cells which aren't directly related to agriculture. "It's the opportunity to initiate one-on-one dialogue," he said. "To have a forum like this is rare."

And the content of the meeting was driven by those who came to see Emerson. "You've heard me give the speech," she said. "What I really need is to listen now."

Input for the Farm Bill is some of the main information Emerson said she was looking for.

Jennings said the current bill is "as good as it can get," and rice farmer Scott Wheeler said "what they have right now is working, I think, really well." But Emerson explained the government is wanting to cut costs, and both the chairman of the agriculture committee which she serves on and most of the House of Representatives feel it would be best to rewrite the bill.

Those in attendance said the bill should keep its flexibility and direct pay. They also suggested the farm bases -- the difference between the future price of the grain and what is paid in cash -- be updated.

"Traditionally, it's even to 15 cents less," Wheeler explained. "But it continues to erode. Today, it's 34 cents down for November soybeans."

There have been huge losses for agriculture in 2006, and farmers also expressed concern over rising fuel costs. Wheeler said the price for two transport loads of fuel has jumped from $18,000 to $40,000 in the past year. Irrigation burns the bulk of fuel on the farm, they pointed out. "Tractors don't run 24 hours a day," Jennings said.

It was also suggested that farm storage loans be expanded and investment tax credit on farm storage be added to the next Farm Bill. "Bins are going to go up 50 percent," one farmer pointed out.

They also talked about the small number of young farmers who are going into the field. "We are losing our young farmers fast," said Gary Branum.

Justin Landers, who farms in Sikeston, said the risk and hours make going into farming "an uphill battle." And Wheeler added "If someone had enough money to start farming, I'd tell them to do something different."

One big problem is trade. "The government cuts a lot of markets we can sell to," he said. Iran, Iraq and Cuba have three of the biggest rice markets in the world, but trade there isn't open with the U.S."

Also, it's difficult to remain compliant with all of the World Trade Organization's guidelines dealing with agriculture, many pointed out.

After hearing farmers' concerns and opinions, Emerson walked away with a better knowledge of what was important to her constituents. She said, "There's a lot of promise for the future of agriculture."