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Staff photos by Cam Bonelli  

Vietnam veteran Gary “Doc” salutes while taps is played at the Litchfield Memorial Day remembrance ceremony Monday.

cbonelli / Staff photo by Cam Bonelli 

From right, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic Jeanie Shoultz Doran, Connie Lies and Darlene Kotelnicki stand at attention after placing a wreath during the Memorial Day ceremony.

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USDA to offer $16B in funds for farmers

The USDA will offer more than $16 billion in programs to help farmers impacted by trade disruption and “unjustified retaliation.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced May 23 that the USDA will take several actions to assist farmers with programs that estimate the “impacts of unjustified retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods and other trade disruptions.”

“China hasn’t played by the rules for a long time and President Trump is standing up to them, sending the clear message that the United States will no longer tolerate their unfair trade practices, which include non-tariff trade barriers and the theft of intellectual property,” Purdue said in a press release. “President Trump has great affection for America’s farmers and ranchers, and he knows they are bearing the brunt of these trade disputes.”

According to the USDA, American farmers have dealt with unjustified retaliatory tariffs and years of non-tariff trade disruptions, which have curtailed U.S. exports to China. Farmers have experienced the effects of U.S.-China trade disruptions for those who produce crops such as soybeans and wheat and the dairy industry.

“High tariffs disrupt normal marketing patterns, raising costs by forcing commodities to find new markets,” the USDA stated. “Additionally, American goods shipped to China have been slowed from reaching market by unusually strict or cumbersome entry procedures, which affect the quality and marketability of perishable crops. These boost marketing costs and unfairly affect our producers.”

Purdue said the plan the USDA announced ensures farmers do not bear the brunt of unfair retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and other trading partners.

“Our team at USDA reflected on what worked well and gathered feedback on last year’s program to make this one even stronger and more effective for farmers,” he said. “Our farmers work hard, are the most productive in the world, and we aim to match their enthusiasm and patriotism as we support them.”

The USDA announced several programs to assist farmers, such as the Market Facilitation Program for 2019, which will provide $14.5 billion in direct payments to producers. This will apply to producers of several crops including soybeans and wheat. According to the USDA, farmers will receive a payment based on a single-county rate multiplied by a farm’s total plantings to those crops in total in 2019.

Dairy producers will also see some relief by receiving a per-hundredweight payment on production history.

“These payments will help farmers to absorb some of the additional costs of managing disrupted markets, to deal with surplus commodities and to expand and develop new markets at home and abroad,” the USDA stated.

Farmers should expect to see payments made in three periods, the second and third dependent on market conditions: July and early August, after the FSA crop report is completed by July 15; November; and early January.

In addition to the programs, the USDA states that a $1.4 billion Food Purchase and Distribution Program will surplus commodities affected by trade disruption. These products will be distributed by the Food and Nutrition Service to food banks, schools and other outlets serving low-income individuals.

Finally, the CCC will use its Charter Act authority for $100 million to be issued through the Agricultural Trade Promotion Program administered by the Foreign Agriculture Service to assist in developing new export markets on behalf of producers, according to the USDA.

Further details regarding eligibility and payment rates will be released at a later date.

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A 161-year-old dairy is 'determined' to stay alive

These days, the life of a small dairy farmer might not look great. However, fourth-generation farmer Jim Turck said he can’t quit now. He’s determined to keep going.

Jim and his wife, Lisa, have three children, Jennifer, Amanda and Rachel. They first met on a hayride. Something about Jim caught Lisa’s attention, which compelled her to ask him out.

Lisa said she never intended to live on a farm, but it has gotten into her blood since she has done it for so long.

“I used to say that I (was) never (going to) marry a farmer,” Lisa said. “I don’t know why I said that, but I did. You just never say never.”

Last year the Meeker County Farm Bureau recognized the Turcks’ farm as a sesquicentennial farm. The farm has been in the family since 1858, when Jim’s great-grandfather purchased the land from the U.S. government, starting a dairy more than 160 years ago. As the Turcks celebrate this achievement, the hardships of the trade war and farm economic decline has hit the dairy industry hard.

The economic climate today reminds Jim Turck of the troubling 1980s agriculture economy. According to state data compiled with the help of the University of Minnesota, state farmers experienced their sixth-consecutive year of low profitability in 2018. With the dairy business in decline, the Turcks borrowed money through an operating line of credit to continue producing milk and running the farm, Jim said.

“So we’ve exercised just about everything we can to save money,” he said. “And we are still borrowing money.”

The situation farmers face is alarming, said Rachel Turck, their daughter, who helps her father on the farm.

“(Farmers) worked so hard to get where they are at,” she said. “And then to just lose everything? It’s hard. And even me coming up (to help), it’s hard to even see the way things are going.”

Rachel got her degree in farm management and operation program offered by Ridgewater College in Willmar. She hopes she’ll one day see her family farm reach its second-century stage and continue to take care of it.

Becoming a farmer

Jim, the youngest of four children, grew up on a 23-acre farm and lived in a house right beside the barn. When Jim was in sixth grade, his father had a heart attack, and Jim had to step up to take care of the farm. He learned from an early age the dedication it took to run a farm.

After deciding to study dairy herd management at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson, he became the sole caretaker of the farm’s legacy. His siblings all chose different career paths, which left him to continue the legacy. His daughter actively helps on the farm, and he teachers her much of what he learned from his parents.

Daily life on the farm

Right now, the farm houses 50 cows and 150 young stock, heifers and steers. They also raise corn, soybeans and wheat. Jim said his family is dedicated to producing milk and food.

Due to the tariffs imposed on other countries, last year, Jim said he was forced to take out more money than he has ever needed to before.

“That’s what’s happened to our grain markets too,” he said. “And so, now instead of selling $10-$11 soybeans, the other day they were $7.14… (And) it costs $9 to raise them,” Jim said.

The best thing that could happen, he said, is for the corn and soybean market to move in the opposite direction.

Farmers are currently waiting for retroactive payments from the USDA’s Dairy Margin Coverage Program, which should come as soon as June, according to Rep. Collin Peterson during a March meeting with dairy farmers.

Jim said the future of his farm is looking very bleak. However, they are trying to remain optimistic, hopeful and do the best they can.