U leads national program to help farmers

The program includes a $17.6 million grant to train farmers harmed by imports.

by Katie Wieglos

The University of Minnesota has been awarded a grant to establish a national training coordination center to lead a program that will educate eligible farmers who have been negatively impacted by imports. As world prices of goods drop due to commodities moving offshore, United States producers are struggling to compete with imports and remain financially stable, said University Extension Economist Kevin Klair. âÄúThere are agricultural industries that are getting literally wiped out by imports,âÄù he said. Farmers, ranchers and commercial fisherman who take part in a federal farmers assistance program will participate in a series of workshops covering better business management, production efficiencies and marketing alternatives. In Minnesota, producers who participate in the program will be trained by University Extension educators. Producers will also develop business plans and could receive $4,000 to $8,000 to help implement their proposed plan, Klair said. The amount producers receive will be determined by the comprehensiveness of their created plans. Producers may qualify for the Trade Adjustment Assistance for Farmers program, which is anticipated to begin in December, after their specific commodity is approved by the United States Department of Agriculture. Commodities are approved if its price has gone down substantially due to imports, Klair said. The program, coordinated by the UniversityâÄôs Center for Farm Financial Management, includes a $17.6 million grant and is part of the federal economic stimulus plan. Four Extension programs in Arkansas, Delaware, Nebraska and Washington will also offer assistance as part of the grant. âÄúThe program is designed to help the farmers either become more competitive so they can survive or find alternative crops or livestock that they can produce,âÄù Klair said. Kent Olson, a University professor of applied economics, said the need for this type of program occurs when unfair trade practices by other countries put out products at a low cost of production, which pushes the world price down. These practices create an âÄúunfair advantageâÄù and puts a âÄúnegative impact upon our producers,âÄù Olson said. The Trade Adjustment Assistance program was first established in 1974 and offers aid to U.S. industry workers whose jobs are threatened by imports. Agriculture was added to the program in 2002 and the Center for Farm Financial Management has been coordinating the training portion of the programâÄôs addition since 2003, Klair said. The recently reauthorized version of the program is highly focused on training farmers, he said, rather than only offering them subsidies. David Torgerson, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers said farmers could benefit from this type of program because the kind of assistance that most producers seek involves improving their marketing skills or switching to new enterprises. âÄúSome of those farmers donâÄôt have many options,âÄù he said. âÄúI think farmers are always interested in trying to become better marketers,âÄù he said.