OMAHA (DTN) — If President Joe Biden takes some time to listen on Wednesday, he’s going to learn a little about the need for livestock pricing transparency and the value of tiling land as farmers face more challenges getting into their fields in the spring.
Robert “Rusty” Kluver and his four generations of family will host the president at his farm near Northfield, Minn. — Dutch Creek Farms — about a half hour south of the Minneapolis metro area. The Biden administration, wanting to show it is investing in rural America, will kick off a rural “barnstorming” effort that the White House is aggressively touting this week.
Biden will use the Kluver farm as a chance to highlight his administration’s investments in rural America, which will include rolling out more than $5 billion in rural spending in conservation, infrastructure, broadband and renewable energy projects.
The Kluver family finishes hogs, as well as raises corn and soybeans. The Kluver family reflected some of the financial struggles farmers faced during the height of the pandemic shutdown when his son went on Facebook offering to sell hogs to anyone who would come to the farm to buy one.
Kluver told DTN the farm’s yields this year are down because of drought, coming in below their five-year averages. The moisture, though, has returned now to complicate harvest in the area. Early Tuesday, Kluver said the farm had two to three inches of snow swirling and drifting on the hog farm. “When I walked out to do chores this morning, it was terrible. The visibility was only about a half mile and it was drifting. It was terrible.”
He’s hoping Wednesday’s weather doesn’t repeat that given the work that has gone into setting up the farm for a presidential visit.
Kluver, asked by DTN about what he’s going to say to the president, said there are some issues in agriculture that need to be addressed. He pointed to price reporting for hogs when there are so few hogs now negotiated on a cash price.
“That’s a big concern of mine,” Kluver said. “If you sell a bushel of corn, you can look that up … and I can find a bid in about five minutes on the internet. I can find at least ten to 12 different bids that I can see in my area.”
Most hogs now are priced on the cut out now, which initially wasn’t meant to be a pricing mechanism, Kluver explained. “There needs to be more transparency in the markets and pricing mechanisms in hogs like corn and soybeans,” he said. “Right now, nothing is reported due to confidentiality. Have you ever heard that line before?”
Separately, Kluver pointed to his sons, one of whom works in a cooperative and the other who has started their own seed-corn business. Kluver pointed to the amount of capital and land that is needed for a young farmer to start on their own.
“The land resource is a really tough one to maintain and come up with,” Kluver said. “Land is not cheap and these guys don’t have the capital to go in and bid on a farm. There are a lot of big players you have go out there and compete against, and I guess that’s the way it is. I certainly wish there would be some more incentives for young farmers to get their foot in the door.”
Those will be challenging issues for Biden administration officials to hear as they seek to tout investments meant to keep young people in rural communities.
Vilsack highlights conservation dollars
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday the visit between the president and the Kluver family will “put a spotlight on farmers who are already embracing this opportunity and this future.”
The Kluvers “have taken full advantage” of USDA conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Vilsack said. “They understand the significance of the conservation resources being provided,” he said.
Also, the secretary said the Minnesota trip will highlight some state initiatives focusing on areas such as water quality. “This is an opportunity to highlight the work going on in Minnesota.”
A big chunk of the $5 billion that will be touted Wednesday includes $1.7 billion for USDA conservation programs in 2024 under the Inflation Reduction Act.
Vilsack said the conservation dollars will include an “unprecedented” $1.1 billion for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) in 35 states for “landscape scale” or watershed projects. The conservation dollars from the IRA are required to help either lower agricultural emissions or sequester carbon. Vilsack said the new projects will help work towards moving agriculture toward “net zero emissions,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack pointed out USDA released $850 million of the IRA funds for fiscal-year 2023 and ended up with more than $2 billion in requests from farmers. That funding helped add another 5,300 farmers and livestock producers in conservation programs in FY 2023 beyond a typical enrollment year.
Along with the RCPP dollars, USDA will spend $250 million on EQIP, $250 million on CSP and another $100 million for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).
Broadband, reap and other funding
Other than the conservation spending, USDA Rural Development will spend $2 billion for 99 economic development projects as part of the Rural Partners Network that will go to communities in nine states and Puerto Rico.
USDA will announce another $1.1 billion for 104 loan and grant awards to help with rural infrastructure projects. This funding will go to projects such as upgrading rural water and sewer utilities along with improving electricity service as well. Tied with that will be $5 million from the IRA that will go to help expand infrastructure for “renewable, homegrown biofuels.”
Broadband spending will continue with $274 million for 16 grants and loans to help boost rural internet access as part of another round of funds for the ReConnect Program that is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Lastly, the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) will release $145 million that will go to 700 loans and grant awards to help farmers and small rural businesses either improve energy efficiency or expand renewable energy projects. That funding also comes from the IRA.
When Vilsack talks about farmers making a lot of their income from off-farm jobs, Kluver understands. He taught for 35 years because the farm didn’t bring in enough income to pay the bills and provide health insurance for his family, he told DTN.
“So, I worked a second job and we kind of slowly started to expand and improve our farming techniques,” he said. “We’ve embraced technology and precision farming so that has helped us immensely.”
Kluver also advocates for tiling practices on his farm despite some who may criticize the use. He said the farm has poorly drained soils. The tile makes it easier to get into the fields in the spring and less crop loss due to heavy rains, as well as helping the fields dry after those heavy moisture events.
“I know conservation people don’t like to hear this, but a lot of conservation practices, actually any conservation tillage practices, would not be possible in this area if we didn’t have tile in the ground,” Kluver said. “We have a lot of tile. The ground needs to dry out in the spring as fast as possible. We know the earlier that you plant a crop, the more likely you are to see maximum yield potential.”
He added, “The tile is my best friend. I think it’s one of the best things that’s really happened is drain tile.”
Kluver said the neighbors probably figured out something was up at his farm this week when the president’s advance team started practicing helicopter landings at the farm over the weekend.
“We didn’t say much to the neighbors, but the word got out,” he said. “You’re not going to fly five helicopters down here like that and rattle everybody’s windowpanes and without everybody noticing it.”
The Northfield farm is the only place Robert Kluver has ever lived. He declined to say how many acres he farms, saying “it would only be about one day’s work for most of the farmers around here.”
He added, “I always tell my kids I’m going to punish them by giving them the farm. You know, we’ve had to claw tooth and nail to get what we’ve got and we’ve worked hard for it, and we’re really proud of it.”
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @ChrisClaytonDTN
Type of work: