MAPLE PARK – Many years ago a couple high school kids were playing chicken while driving grain trucks. Tragically, both ended up losing their lives.
Warren Strom, a farmer and land use consultant, used that analogy during an agricultural roundtable Oct. 19 in Maple Park.
“We’re playing chicken with the tariffs and someone is going to lose and it’s probably going to be us (farmers) if we don’t figure out that we are a world economy grain-wise and we have world market farmers in this country,” he said. “You can think this is going to workout next week or next month but maybe not because when we lost the wheat markets with the Russian embargo, we never got them back. When you lose a market they find a new supplies and it’s gone forever and not just today. If we don’t figure this our we’re going to be in trouble.”
The roundtable was held at the home of Lucas Strom, a candidate for Kane County Board, District 15 who is also vice president at Farmers Business Network and owner of the state-recognized Centennial Strom Farm of Kane County. It also featured Lauren Underwood, democratic candidate for Congress, IL-14 and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who is also the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies, among others.
“I was very troubled when I was in the Oregon House of Representatives and we were at various points the hungriest state in the country and that seems like a crazy place to be in this world,” Merkley said. “We’re a fairly affluent nation and we shouldn’t have families where children are in fact going hungry so I think our main hope here is to hear from all of you to have a discussion about agriculture issues of the district and how Congress can be helpful with that.”
While the crops may have stayed the same, farming is far more complex than it once was and an outdated view is one of the problems.
“Farming is worldwide now and we look as much at the markets in Argentina and Brazil as we do the markets from Iowa,” Strom said. “People in the suburbs wonder why we care and it’s because it’s the market worldwide and the biggest producers of our biggest crops are in Argentina and Brazil and some have a double crop so they get two crops a year. So we’re watching the rainfall, the droughts and the production and when you get into a trade war like we are now, a tariff, it’s ridiculous.”
Bob Seegers, Jr., president of Seegers Grain, Inc., said the farm fields of the past subsidized a crop a year of production and could not respond to the world market’s need because they were pigeon holed by what crop their subsidy was aimed at.
“We’ve been raising corn for 55 out of the last 65 years and we don’t have a base for wheat or soybeans,” Seegers said. “So if went to the old type of subsidies that had to do with the type of grain that was available, if it was corn, we’d be happy as heck but if the world demand wanted wheat or soybeans we wouldn’t be able to adjust and that’s the idea of the free market system to be able to adjust, and if you’re going to feed more people in the world, you have to be able to adjust the program.”
Change is something farmers are willing to do, at least according to Lucas Strom, but it has make fiscal sense.
“Quite honestly, 99 out of 100 farmers are willing to do it as long as there isn’t a negative impact,” he said. “You’re taking someone’s business and saying do something different, but they can’t lose money. There are some things that can be done, but it’s going to take some political and public support to get going because it’s very hard for a farm to change what they know how to do and not increase their risk and operation.”
Underwood acknowledged there are numerous agricultural issues that are vital to the economic growth and success of the area and that she’s committed to fighting for the farmers.
“I’ve been hearing first-hand from you farmers and related agricultural folks about how the impact of the tariffs from the Trump administration and the harm that this inaction of the farm bill has caused,” she said. “There really are some opportunities in the next Congress to make sure we’re putting forward an agenda so our families, neighbors and colleagues are able to grow in this sector which is vital for jobs and to make sure our historic roots in farming can continue for the next generation to take advantage of.”
Merkley closed the discussion by reminding attendees how impactful these roundtables can be.
“I’ve held 360 of these (roundtables) in my 10 years in office,” he said. “I know that when Lauren is in office she will have these conversations so she can know how she can weigh in on behalf of agriculture, and you discover things when you go out and talk to people.”