GARDEN CITY — Don't cut too much out of the upcoming farm bill.
That was the message farmers gave to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue during his visit to southern Minnesota Friday afternoon.
"Try and write the farm bill to address relief, not to address the cuts," said Minnesota Farmer's Union President Gary Wertish. "We're trying to get the federal deficit under control, which we all want to do that, but you can't do that on the backs of the farmers."
Farmers and ag industry representatives are concerned over up to $10 billion in potential cuts to crop insurance, nutrition programs and other parts of an upcoming farm bill Congress will discuss next year.
Perdue, on a tour across the Midwest to talk about the 2018 farm bill, said he has heard similar concerns from farmers in Wisconsin. Many of the same farmers at Friday's meeting took their concerns to the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture at Farmfest the day before.
Perdue acknowledged the farm bill will likely undergo budget cuts next year. He hopes the bill will be crafted toward getting farmers to "farm for the market and not farm for the program," reducing the amount of farmers who attempt to game federal ag programs.
"I hope it's a smaller budget, because we don't need those resources as a safety net there and in the food nutrition program," he said. "Our goal in this administration is to get people a job and we're making great progress on that."
Perdue was named the secretary of agriculture in April. He is a former Republican governor of Georgia, grew up on a farm and owned several agriculture businesses in the past. He told farmers part of his goal in office is to reduce ag regulations and work with other federal agencies to reduce response times to legislation, water quality and other issues such as immigration visas for temporary farm workers.
Various ag and trade groups sought assurances from Perdue over potential additions to the farm bill.
FFA representatives asked Perdue to support funding a U.S. Department of Agriculture position to help agriculture outreach efforts. The Minnesota Pork Producers would like more funding for foot and mouth disease in case of future outbreaks.
Dairy producers want help reforming margin protection programs that haven't paid out well enough for farmers to keep participating, as well as help fixing trade issues with Canada over milk exports.
Each of those groups can agree on one thing: more trade opportunities, according to U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-1st District.
"There's an optimism out here," Walz said. "People want some certainty, and they want to believe that the people are with them on agriculture, they want to make sure they've got trade deals that get us to where we need to go."