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COVID-19 has disrupted the agricultural sector in a variety of ways.

The pandemic has exposed a break in the food supply chain that was compounded by the loss of foreign trade, low farm gate prices, and multinational packing plant disruptions.  This pandemic also highlighted the importance of access to rural broadband and rural healthcare. Montana Farmers Union held a series of town halls with Senator Tester along with candidates for governor, U.S. Congress, U.S. Senate and where they discussed the effects of the pandemic on agriculture. The town halls also focused on Country-of-Origin Labeling, trade, corporate consolidation, locally grown opportunities, renewable fuels and climate change. Candidate for congress Matt Rosendale refused to participate.

The virtual town halls were open to the public and will be posted online at montanafarmersunion.com/montana-farmers-union-virtual-candidate-town-halls/.

Montana Farmers Union President Walter Schweitzer served as moderator. “We appreciate Senator Tester, Senator Daines, Representative Gianforte, Governor Bullock, Lt. Governor Mike Cooney and candidate Kathleen Williams for taking the time to participate in the town halls.  I am disappointed that Matt Rosendale refused to discuss rural and ag issues last spring and again this fall.  The issues discussed affect not just rural Montana, but all Montanans.”

On the topic of food security and truth in labeling Lt. Governor and candidate for Governor Mike Cooney said he is in favor of truth in labeling and sees real value in the Montana made product. “People are concerned with their food security,” said Cooney. “They want to know how it was produced and they are willing to pay for that. I would rather see the dollars paid for these products going back to the producers rather than some middle man.”

The group also met with Representative and candidate for Governor Greg Gianforte. He does not support mandatory Country of Origin Labeling but he does support requiring the voluntary label “Product of USA” to be born, raised and slaughtered here in the U.S.

On the issue of access to rural broadband, candidate for Congress Kathleen Williams said the Broadband DATA Act recently passed by congress is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to help rural communities.“ One of the problems now is that we can’t even get good maps of who is being serviced or not,” said Williams. “I have been working on this issue since 2012 as a legislator when I discovered the lack of mapping and that companies wouldn’t share their information. There is a role for public dollars to extend these services just like rural electrification.”

Senatorial candidates Governor Steve Bullock and Senator Steve Daines discussed their work at the state and federal level in regards to rural and Ag issues.

On the issue of reductions in service in the U.S. Postal Service, Senator Daines acknowledged the vital role that the USPS plays in rural Montana and said that he is not in favor of privatizing the agency.

When Daines was asked about “Right to Repair” he said he was not familiar with the issue and he would have his staff look into it.

Senator Jon Tester also discussed the affects that the reduction in service that the USPS can have on rural Montana. “The postal service has been under attack since I got here in 2007,” said Senator Tester. “There are a lot of people who think it’s gone away like the pony express. It’s not only for voting. It’s for prescription drugs, auto parts, and birthday cards.  It is for everything. The bottom line is, regardless of what has happened, we need to do our level best to restore service to the post office so we can get timely service.”

President Schweitzer opened the week of Town Hall meetings with Governor Bullock where many topics were discussed including the Right to Repair issue. Bullock said this issue is an important one for not just farmers and ranchers, but for all consumers. For a company to sell you a piece of equipment and tell you, you can’t try to repair it if it breaks or you can only go not to the local dealer. This clause is just another way for out-of-state corporations to back Montana farmers into a corner and actually have them pay a heck a lot more for services than they otherwise would.”

Montana Farmers Union is also conducting a survey of candidates for the legislature that will focus on rural and Ag issues.

The 2020 MFU Legislative Survey can be found at https://montanafarmersunion.com/policy-book-2/. The survey period ends October 5. Results will be posted on the website.

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