Four leaders in Missouri agriculture recently gathered on the MU campus to discuss agricultural policy surrounding farms and food security.
Panelists were Chris Chinn, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture; Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau; Sen. Brian Munzlinger, senator for Missouri’s 18th District; and Patrick Westhoff, director of the MU Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute.
A hot topic addressed was the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA is a treaty between the U.S., Mexico and Canada that eliminated almost all tariffs between the countries. By eliminating tariffs, it has increased agricultural trade across borders. The rising uncertainty of whether President Donald Trump will renegotiate the agreement has set many agriculturalists on high defense as it could affect farms across the state.
“Do no harm, because we stand to lose a lot,” Chinn said, addressing her concern for Missouri farmers, including herself.
Rural broadband in Missouri was also discussed as experts have recognized its critical importance for schools, farms and businesses across the state.
Hurst explained that agricultural businesses across the state, whether it be farming or greenhouse operations, often rely on internet connection to make orders or sell products daily.
Chinn recounted Gov. Eric Greitens’ acknowledgement of the issue and his steps toward fixing it.
“He (Greitens) put up $6 million of state funds to qualify for the E-rate program, which unlocked another $39 million in federal funds, so that we could get rural broadband access into every rural school in Missouri,” she said.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries, more commonly known as the E-rate program, provides discounts of up to 90 percent on telecommunications and information services for eligible schools.
Cover crops and the Missouri Cost-Share Program were among other topics discussed. Both are intended to preserve soil and prevent runoff into streams. The Cost-Share Program is funded by a portion of the Parks, Soils, and Water Sales Tax. Some Missouri landowners are concerned that their tax payer dollars are being used for conservation practices that lack extensive research.
“We are just now really doing large scale use of cover crops, so we may be making a mistake,” Hurst said. “We have more to learn, so I would expect as we get more experience with them and as we have more use of them that we will get better at putting those dollars where they will do the most environmental good.”
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, participating in these conservation practices helps maintain viable soil conditions, which reduces sedimentation and improves water quality.
“You have to really look at what is cost effective,” Chinn said. “Does it mean dollars and cents, or does it mean preserving that farm for your next generation?”
Among those in attendance were CAFNR students and organization members. Many were interested to hear about agricultural policy topics that were pertinent to Missouri agriculture.
“I am amazed by the insight the panelists gave about each topic,” said Halli Karr, agricultural education student and Collegiate Farm Bureau member. “It makes me proud to be a part of Missouri agriculture.”
As students, staff and community members listened to each topic addressed, they were encouraged to think of its more exhaustive impacts.
“I think it’s important to hear about the different topics and policy issues in agriculture,” said Allie Fleener, agribusiness management student and Collegiate Farm Bureau member. “Sometimes we are oblivious to the things that don’t pertain to us directly, but it’s important to learn that it could affect us all in the big picture.”
The forum was presented by the American Enterprise Institute Campus Executive Council at Mizzou, Collegiate Farm Bureau, Collegiate Cattlemen and the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity.