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It finally feels like fall.

The weather is starting to cool off; there's even a bit of a chill in the air. And this time of year is important for Missouri's agricultural industry. It's harvest season. The machinery comes out and the crops come in, like they always have.

Recently, however, our farmers have faced serious challenges. The flooding from earlier this year damaged fields and swamped acres of cropland. Also, trade disputes have driven prices down. There's worry about an early frost. Ag commodity prices were down sharply in July and August. These factors have resulted in hard times and anxiety for America's farmers.

We're trying to help our farmers and ranchers weather these storms. The USDA announced the Market Facilitation Program would allocate $16 billion to help farmers who have experienced shortfalls this year. This is, of course, a short-term solution, but it will help those producers who have been devastated by Mother Nature and a weak market.

Steps are also being taken to improve our ability to sell in foreign markets. After the loss of Chinese markets, the federal government has worked to open up trade agreements with other large foreign countries. Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. and Japan signed a new trade-enhancement agreement that will significantly lower and, in some cases eliminate entirely, Japanese tariffs on U.S. beef, pork, wheat, cheese, corn, ethanol and more. Japan is the world's third largest economy, and this agreement should provide a shot in the arm for our farmers. We're hopeful it could eventually result in a free trade agreement between the countries.

Additionally, the U.S. is in talks with India to establish a more comprehensive trade agreement between the two countries. Our country has a trade deficit with India, and the feds are working to open the Indian market to more of our imports. India is the second most populous country in the world and could potentially provide a huge boon for our producers.

Locally, the General Assembly has also taken steps to help our farmers. This year, I sponsored Senate Bill 391, which was signed into law May 31 of this year. The new law will make it easier for farmers to establish new livestock operations here in Missouri. This will provide jobs, revenue and ultimately new in-state markets for crop growers that produce feed.

The bill also contains provisions intended to promote the modernization of agriculture operations. It established a new joint committee to study production methods and encourages cleaner, safer and more efficient farms. It is my sincere hope this results in making Missouri's farms as competitive and safe as any in the nation.

Agriculture is Missouri's No. 1 industry. It is the backbone of this state. We all have a stake in making sure our farmers continue to keep Missouri a model for our country and for the world.

State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, represents the 6th District, and shares his perspective on statehouse issues twice a month.

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