Berg Family, Redwood County
“I’ve got to feed mouths and make house payments,” Bob said. “It has to come out of my day job because farming can’t pay for it.”
The year 2018 brought a blow to the Berg farm, with storms drowning 200 of their soybean acres. That’s 200 fewer acres to be paid for.
“We didn’t get crop insurance payments for it because the fields yielded above Actual Production History,” Bob said. “And we didn’t get any of the (Market Facilitation Program payments) either. It was a double whammy.
“But we got through it. We always do.”
It’s tough news for Theo, who said he wants to farm the land eventually, too. He does quite a bit of work already, a blessing for the older generations.
“The winters come so fast, we barely get done harvesting,” Bob said. “If it weren’t for Theo, there’s a lot of stuff we wouldn’t have gotten done. It’s gonna be that way this year, too, I think.”
How to endure
The Bergs were chronicled in the 2018 series of videos that debuted at the Farmers Union Coffee Shop at the Minnesota State Fair, highlighting various MFU members. Bob opened up about the drowned acres and admitted that it was tough on him and his family.
“But you’ve got to have hope,” he added.
In today’s farm economy, hope is easier said than done. However, there are a few areas farmers can control, including whom they work with.
“You’ve got to work with a good lender, that’s probably most important,” Bob said.
Being involved with MFU is another way the Bergs endure. They know they can trust our organization to be a voice for family farmers at the Legislature. In particular, the need for the next generation of farmers concerns them.
“They want to farm, but it’s really hard,” Mary said. “It takes money.”
“The problem is, if you’re not working close with the landlord to rent you land at a reasonable price, somebody will always outbid you,” Bob added. “I don’t care where you’re at, somebody will pay more than what you’re going to pay and there’s a breaking point for a young farmer to get involved in farming.”
That’s why MFU advocates for programs such as the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit, which incentivizes retiring farmers to sell or rent their land to beginning farmers. Richard lauded it as a step in the right direction. But we’ve got much more work to do.
“It helps that we have Thom (Petersen) in there now (as Commissioner of Agriculture),” Tracie said. Thom was a strong advocate for beginning farmer programs as MFU Government Relations Director for 16 years, and now leads the way on them as Commissioner.
From Wanda to Washington
The Wanda Local that Richard and Mary Berg were active in once has disbanded, but they haven’t forgotten what it meant to them.
“We had a neighbor who was really strong in Farmers Union,” Richard said. “He even went to Washington, D.C. with about a hundred people to speak up for the railroads.”
Bob and Tracie got to go to the nation’s capital themselves in 2018, as part of the Farmers Union Enterprises Leadership Couples program. Together with couples from North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin Farmers Unions, they went through leadership training, public speaking and advocacy work.
“We met a lot of wonderful people from the other states, and they deal with a lot of the same issues we do,” Bob said. “I wish we were still in it.”
The Washington trip for the couples was the 2018 National Farmers Union Legislative Fly-In, which Bob and Tracie remember fondly.
“All the training was overwhelming when we were doing it, but when you think about it later, it’s really beneficial,” Tracie said.
And how will the farm’s next generation become leaders? Theo got his start by attending MFU Leadership Camp in 2017, learning how to build cooperatives. Reese hasn’t gotten the chance to attend yet, but it’s likely he will too.
In the meantime, we’ll keep fighting for families like the Bergs to farm for many more generations to come, and to make it possible for everyone with farm dreams to live them out.