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Klobuchar, Peterson warn against cuts to ag spending during Farm Bill panel

Pat Lunemann, chairman of Minnesota AgriGrowth, gestures as he talks about Farm Bill concerns with Minnesota Democrats Rep. Collin Peterson and Sen. Amy Klobuchar during a panel discussion Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. Helmut Schmidt / Forum News Service

MOORHEAD, Minn. — Dairy crop insurance, funding for agricultural research, and continued support for ethanol and biodiesel fuels are areas Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., says she'll focus on as negotiations continue in the Senate on the 2018 Farm Bill.

Meanwhile, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., says it's possible the House could have its version of the bill ready by the end of this year.

Klobuchar and Peterson spoke Friday, Oct. 20, at a panel discussion at the Hjemkomst Center, with more than a dozen Red River Valley agricultural leaders.

Klobuchar said the $4 trillion 2018 budget blueprint passed 51-49 by the Senate late Thursday includes a more than 20 percent cut in Department of Agriculture funding.

Approving such a budget "would not be a smart move for the Midwest right now," Klobuchar said.

Though the sugar program, which for years has been a target for budget cutters, is well positioned, which is good news for sugarbeet growers, she said.

"Sugar, so important to the Red River Valley, is in a good place right now," Klobuchar said, especially after negotiating sugar trade with Mexico. "The Farm Bill couldn't pass, in my mind, without the sugar program."

Funding for agricultural research should not be cut, Klobuchar said, noting that more needs to be done to deal with diseases such as bird flu, which killed more than 9 million chickens and turkeys in 23 Minnesota counties in 2015.

Ethanol and biodiesel energy programs and the Conservation Reserve Program, which helps provide wildlife habitat, stem erosion and create a buffer from pollutants for lakes and rivers, are also vital, Klobuchar said. Dairy, which the Congressional Budget Office pegs as the third-largest crop in the U.S. with nearly $39 billion in annual revenues, needs more insurance, too, she said.

Bryan Klabunde, vice president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, said the best safety net for rural America "is good commodity prices. .... We really can't take any more hits."

The U.S. also needs to bring stability to roiled world grain markets, said Pat Lunemann, chairman of Minnesota AgriGrowth. He added that immigration reforms are needed to ensure the nation has enough farm workers.

Work on the Farm Bill is proceeding rapidly in the House, Peterson said. "This could be done before the end of the year," he said.

Peterson worries about attempts to limit crop insurance. "What people are talking about could destroy the crop insurance system. And if that happens, that could be very bad. We're going to fight against that. I think we'll be successful," he said.

Peterson said House Republicans want to cut $10 billion in agricultural spending.

"With the prices being what they are, none of these commodities are cash flowing, we need to improve the safety net, I believe. It costs probably $10 billion a year to do what we need to do to raise the target prices, or in some cases, loan rates, to fix the cotton situation, to fix the dairy situation, to get the CRP cap lifted. All of that stuff costs money, and right now, we don't have any money."

Klobuchar said the country can't afford a divide between rural and urban lawmakers over the Farm Bill.

"That means we need some people that care a lot about conservation, and care a lot about making sure the nutrition programs are maintained. And that's why, in the Senate, there's a lot less talk" about cutting programs. "We know we need those people to get a compromise to get it (a Farm Bill) passed. Otherwise, we have no Farm Bill."

The panel was the start of a two-day swing through northwestern Minnesota for Klobuchar to talk about agricultural issues.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.

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