The USDA conducted a day-long listening session on Farm Bill implementation Tuesday, but the National Farmers Union wants Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to do more than just listen. The farmer’s advocacy group wants him to do some talking. Perhaps a lot of talking.

The secretary has two upcoming legislative appearances this week, and NFU is urging him to use the opportunity to push for additional relief for farmers.

“Oversupply and trade disruptions, among other issues currently plaguing the farm economy, are likely to continue to depress farm prices into the foreseeable future,” NFU President Roger Johnson said. “Family farmers and ranchers need a strong safety net to continue to weather these difficult economic circumstances. We need the Secretary to be a strong advocate at this critical juncture for the family farm agriculture.”

Perdue is expected to headline a Wednesday U.S. House Agriculture Committee hearing on the state of the rural economy. That would be a perfect opportunity for him to make a case for additional relief, needed in light of likely long-lasting effects from ongoing trade wars, NFU suggested.

“While it’s important to remain optimistic during these tough times, we need to be realistic about what’s in store for American agriculture,” Johnson said. “A majority of American farmers lost money last year, and that has been the case over the past several years. Farm prices are unsustainably low. Farm lending is tightening. Farm hotlines are overloaded. Farm bankruptcies are rising.”

In North Dakota, crop budgets for 2019 showed only a handful of crops penciling out to returns for management in northwestern North Dakota. These few were soybeans, which still have a high degree of uncertainty due to a trade war with China, and flax and mustards. The latter two are specialty crops, with small markets. They would be risky to grow without a contract in place.

Spring wheat, corn and oil sunflowers were all negative, but close to returning a profit. Higher than expected yields and or lower than expected costs could make these profitable for some growers in the region.

It’s the sixth straight year for lower commodity prices, and that has hurt many farmers and ranches, Johnson said.

“Knowing that many more family farmers and ranchers will be forced out of business without increased support, the Secretary must use every opportunity he has to work with congress to strengthen support for family farmers,” he said.

Secretary Perdue’s second legislative appearance is on Thursday with the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee to discuss implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Johnson said the Farm Bill was an important step toward providing certainty to farmers, but that more must happen to provide relief given current economic circumstances.

“Global oversupply of top commodities is forecast to continue into 2019, and USDA projects the overall trend of real agricultural prices to continue to decline over the next 10 years. On top of that, self-inflicted trade disruptions have ruined export markets for farmers, likely for generations to come.”

Perdue, however, may have a few battles of his own ahead. The White House is proposing to trim all non-defense spending by 5 percent, but is likely to target USDA for even bigger cuts, Perdue told reporters on Monday.

Trump’s first year in office, he proposed cuts of 21 percent to USDA discretionary spending. The second year, he proposed cuts of 20 percent.

Both times, however, Congress disregarded the President’s proposed cuts and retained funding for agriculture research, which they said then is critical to America’s future.

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