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Published July 30, 2012, 11:39 AM

Senate Ag Committee chair tours N.D.

U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said that retiring Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is a close ally in the Senate and that she needs a fighter with a heart for public service — like Heidi Heitkamp — to replace him.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO — U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said that retiring Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is a close ally in the Senate and that she needs a fighter with a heart for public service — like Heidi Heitkamp — to replace him.

Stabenow traveled in North Dakota on July 28, appearing at two agricultural forum appearances with Heitkamp in Mandan and rural Fargo. Stabenow was praised by agricultural leaders at both meetings for passing a farm bill in the Senate.

In rural Fargo, she spoke during a farm shop event at the Jake Gust farmstead, north of Fargo, flanked by a red tractor and U.S. and North Dakota flags.

Heitkamp campaign staff said this is the only time in recent decades when a sitting Senate Agriculture chairperson had come to the state.

Stabenow said the relatively green crop conditions in North Dakota stand in contrast to the terrible drought across the United States — even in her own state — and that disaster provisions in the farm bill need to be passed.

Heitkamp, who faces U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., for a Senate post in the Nov. 6 election, and Stabenow used the appearances to say that Berg and his Republican allies haven’t done enough to pass a bill that undergirds what Heitkamp said is the No. 1 industry in the state — even ahead of oil.

The Berg campaign says he’s been working to bring the Farm Bill up for a vote. On July 20, he issued a news release, saying he was one of 61 House members who had written a letter to House leadership, calling for a vote on the bill that had passed by the House Agriculture Committee. Berg advocated for the bill in a floor speech. “Now is the time for the House to act,” Berg said.

The current multi-year farm bill expires Sept. 30.

Safety net

The bill plays a big role in the region’s agriculture. Aaron Krauter, a Democratic appointee and state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, said the farm bill is vital to provide a safety net for farmers.

He said North Dakota received a total of $6.1 billion in farm program supports from 2008 to 2011. About $3.4 billion were in crop insurance indemnities over that period. Farmers paid $1.3 billion in premiums, but taxpayers subsidized them with nearly $2.2 billion.

The Senate has passed a bipartisan farm bill and the House Agriculture Committee has passed a bill, but Stabebow said it appears House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wants to send back a one-year extension of current policy, and an ad hoc disaster bill that is “less than what we really need.”

She predicted the Senate will reject the proposal and will spend August negotiating.

“The only thing that will go to the (House) floor is this one-year extension,” Stabenow said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” She called it “quite shocking” that House leadership is unwilling to act on a bill that came out of the committee on a bipartisan vote. She said about half of the Republican caucus doesn’t think there should be a farm bill, so the party may not have votes to pass it.

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