Kevin Paap, Minnesota Farm Bureau president, just back from a mid-September Washington, D.C., meeting along with 26 young farmers and ranchers from around the state, described concerns during the Beltrami County Farm Bureau annual meeting Friday evening at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds.
"The No. 1 issue if you're in D.C. or anywhere is the budget," Paap said, noting that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is working on ways to balance the federal budget. The 12-member committee, also known as the Super Committee, is made up of three Republicans and three Democrats from both the U.S. House and Senate.
"Our biggest concern is that the Super Committee is not interested in making good agriculture policy," Paap said. "Let's make sure what we do have are the priorities we want."
He said the agriculture budget makes up 4 percent of the entire federal budget. Medicare and Medicaid make up 30 percent; Social Security makes up 22 percent; defense makes up 15 percent; and interest is 14 percent.
These are areas that seemingly can't be touched, he said, so the rest of the cuts will have to come from a small segment of the entire budget. If a budget isn't defined by Christmas, he said, there will be across-the-board cuts.
Other priorities Paap cited included increasing the U.S. agriculture export market share and increased trade. He also referred to additional agricultural regulations that he said don't make sense and are "costly, burdensome and overlapping."
For example, regulations on keeping down dust would include regulating road dust on gravel roads. The suggested solution would be to pave all dirt and gravel roads in the country. Paap said that when he said that would not be an affordable solution, he said the committee responded, "We are not allowed to consider cost in our standards."
He said the Department of Labor also is considering regulations on youth labor that would be unpractical. People younger than 18 would not be allowed to work with animals or machinery; people younger than 16 would not be allowed to use power tools.
"How can you teach a shop class if you can't let a kid use power tools?" he said.
Paap's conclusion is that farmers and ranchers must better communicate and connect with the non-farming population. He said 54 percent of Minnesotans couldn't identify one person involved in agriculture. He said that percentage probably doesn't hold true in Beltrami County, but if it's lower here, it would have to be much higher elsewhere.
"We've got to do a better job of connecting," he said. "I think once they get to know a farmer or rancher, they're going to like us and respect us."
Paap is in his third two-year term as state Farm Bureau president. He farms soybeans and corn in Blue Earth County.