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Published October 29, 2012, 10:07 AM

AFBF recognizes Berg

On Oct. 22, the American Farm Bureau Federation presented Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., with its Friend of Farm Bureau award.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — On Oct. 22, the American Farm Bureau Federation presented Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., with its Friend of Farm Bureau award. Jeffrey Missling, North Dakota Farm Bureau executive vice president, made the presentation at the state organization’s Fargo headquarters.

The congressional award is given to members who support Farm Bureau policy. In this Congress, 43 U.S. senators and 206 U.S. representatives received it.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., also received the award, but Missling says “hectic schedules leading up to the election” prevented a public presentation. Hoeven is not up for re-election.

Missling says Berg, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has worked on issues on international trade, estate tax reform and the farm bill. He noted Berg’s work on spill countermeasure, dust regulation, returning oversight of water quality back to the state level, and pollution discharge permit requirements on crop protection applications.

Two weeks before the Nov. 6 election, the announcement had a political component. The state Farm Bureau itself doesn’t endorse candidates. The related North Dakota Farm Bureau Political Action Committee for national candidates endorsed Berg on Oct. 8.

Heidi Heitkamp, former North Dakota Attorney General, is the Democratic candidate for the Senate seat. Her campaign spokesman Brandon Lorenz says Berg voted for the “Ryan budget” — named for its author Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., republican vice presidential candidate on the Mitt Romney ticket — which would cut $180 billion from agriculture over a 10-year period — far greater than either Senate or House bills.

What’s enough?

Missling says criticisms that Berg “did not do enough to get the farm bill passed” are “simply not the case.” Lorenz notes the bill stalled in the House.

“The truth is there was little talk coming out of Washington, D.C., for a new farm bill until Rick spoke up and refused to keep quiet,” Missling says. He says Berg worked with Democrats and Republicans on farm policy and that “now, because of Congressman Berg’s advocacy, leadership in the House of Representatives have committed to addressing the farm bill before the end of the year,” he says. “I cannot stress enough how much Rick’s advocacy played in the development of the farm bill.”

On related issues, Berg says both the U.S. Senate and House have supported an estate tax, or “death tax” of 55 percent on assets over $1 million. He says this threatens many North Dakota farms. Capital gains taxes are scheduled to go up, and would make a “big hit” on production agriculture.

Berg says agriculture is a top priority but stopped short of saying whether he would seek a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, or whether there would be a shuffling with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who already is on the committee.

He notes that he chose the House Ways and Means Committee because it was how he can best serve North Dakota. In other interviews, he’s said he’d seek the “highest and best role,” and touted his relationships with House leadership, Ways and Means, and Paul Ryan.

To compare, Heitkamp last July said she’d seek a seat on the ag committee. “I think it’s a bad place for North Dakota farmers to be, wrestling with the farm bill in the House in the midst of (budget) sequestration,” Lorenz says. Berg says one of the reasons he was running for the Senate is because of “special relationships” he has with party leadership and the committee chairmen, but has been unable to deliver on an important farm bill for the state’s largest industry.

Budget problem

Berg says he is in favor of both the Senate farm bill and a House bill on agriculture, except for tying conservation requirements to crop insurance. He stops short of criticizing Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, for any budget missteps, adding that the “challenge” is Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. He runs the Senate with an iron fist and has been quoted that he didn’t want a budget to come up (for a vote),” Berg says. “I think Sen. Conrad really wanted to bring a budget up (for a vote) this spring but Democrat majority leader Harry Reid said, ‘No, I don’t want my members to take a vote on it.’”

Further, Berg says Conrad has been “very supportive and very helpful” on ag policy. He says the key to getting a farm bill passed after the election will be acting on it as soon as possible. Conrad, a key negotiator on the last three farm bills, remains in the Senate through the lame duck session.

Of the 206 U.S. House of Representative members, given the Friend of Farm Bureau award in the 112th Congress, only eight, or about 4 percent, were Democrats. Those eight included Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Bill Owens, D-N.Y., Larry Kissell, D-N.C., Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., Dan Boren, D-Okla.; Mark Critz, D-Pa., Tim Holden, D-Pa., and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.

Of 43 U.S. senators given the award, 14 were Democrats, or about a third.

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