Franken visits West Concord poultry farm
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 11/14/2013 8:10 AM
WEST CONCORD — Sen. Al Franken is optimistic a new farm bill can be law by Jan. 1.
Franken discussed the farm bill during a visit to Callister Farm of West Concord on Oct. 23.
The Callisters raise chickens and turkeys and operate an on-farm poultry processing business.
All four members of the Callister family, Alan, Lori, Gail and Molly, work at Callister Farm. They market chicken, turkey and eggs at farmers markets and to restaurants and food cooperatives. They also do some on-farm sales.
Callister Farm is capable of processing 500 birds per day. They are a Minnesota equal to processor, which means their poultry products can be sold at any store, restaurant or farmers market in Minnesota.
The family employees 12 people and processes 18,000 birds annually. They rent out their cropland.
The farm has been in Alan Callister's family since 1856, two years before Minnesota became a state. The big red barn where chickens now are processed was built in 1909, and remodeled and updated several times through the years. It was last used as a dairy barn in 1973. In 1991, it was remodeled into a poultry processing plant.
A value-added producer grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture helped fund their most recent modernization, Lori Callister said. They added bathrooms and made other improvements two years ago, she said.
The Callisters showed Franken around, taking him to the sheds where the chickens are raised, sharing conversation as they walked. They walked into the processing plant and then sat down to coffee and cookies in the break room.
They talked about the farm bill, which is expected to be in conference committee beginning this week. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz are on the conference committee as are Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Steve King.
Farmers are in limbo now, with some farm bill programs expired since Sept. 30, 2012, when the 2008 farm bill expired.
Many parts of the bill were extended as part of fiscal cliff negotiations in December 2012. The extension expired Sept. 30, 2013, leaving farmers to wonder what Congress will include in a new farm bill or if a farm bill will even pass.
The next deadline for passing legislation comes at the end of the year, when permanent law takes effect.
Franken said he favors keeping permanent law in the farm bill because it's an incentive to update the legislation every five years or so. The farm bill not only funds farm programs, but also food and nutrition programs, conservation programs, renewable energy development and rural development.
Byron farmer Curt Tvedt stressed the importance of conservation, showing Franken tillage radishes planted to break up compaction in fields.
Tvedt, a retired dairyman, is a proponent of cover crops and forages.
"The reason I got into it . . . my farm is very fragile," Tvedt said.
He sold his cows five years ago. When he milked, he grew corn and hay. Now, he only grows forages.
Growing forages is different than growing corn or soybeans, he said. He can't just take forage to a grain elevator. Instead, Tvedt found his own market and serves those clients. He has had no trouble marketing forage this year.
Tvedt has a Conservation Stewardship Program contract, which has been a good fit for him. The program provides a payment based on practices he uses that conserve soil and water, enhance wildlife habitat and address other natural resource concerns. The payment rewards producers for conservation practices, while encouraging them to implement additional practices.
Crop insurance isn't as helpful. He said 95 percent of corn and soybean producers have crop insurance, and only 25 percent of forage growers have coverage.
There was discussion about tying crop insurance subsidies to conservation compliance and to reducing the crop insurance subsidy to producers with an adjusted gross income of $750,000 or more.
Beginning Farmer provisions in the farm bill were talked about. The senator has supported the beginning farmer legislation and in a joint letter to members of the agriculture conference committee urged support for the provision.
". . . The average age of a farmer is over 55 and significant hurdles stand in the way of beginning farmers and ranchers who wish to pursue a career in agriculture," the letter reads. "We write to respectfully request that you maintain the strongest possible support for beginning farmers and ranchers through targeted programs that provide new and young farmers with education and training, access to credit and access to affordable land."
The letter was signed by 15 senators, including Franken.
In a conference call with reporters earlier in the week, Minnesota Farmers Union Vice President Gary Wertish and Franken summarized a meeting the senator had with farm leaders where they discussed the bill. Representatives from dairy, corn and soybean grower groups and Farm Bureau were among those at the meeting organized by MFU.
"I wanted to hear what was on their minds as we go into conference with the House and Senate on the farm bill," Franken said. "Minnesota farmers tell me the farm bill is not only something they want but need. They need the certainty. There are small differences in these groups between some of the provisions, but there is a lot of agreement on other stuff. They don't mind getting rid of direct payments. They want nutrition tied to it, they want the nutrition piece to be robust and they support the beginning farmer rancher provision and the energy title."