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High ground in ag: Heitkamp/Cramer issues center on trade

FARGO, N.D.--Trade. This is the biggest agriculture-related issue that separates U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and her challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., in the Nov. 6 election. The two candidates are well-known to their constituents. Bot...

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Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. (left center) , running for U.S. Senate, says he wants to put up a “unified front” in a trade war initiated by President Donald Trump. Here, he participates in opening ceremonies on a federal ag research lab, he helped get named for Ed Schafer, a former U.S. Agriculture Secretary and Cramer’s former boss as North Dakota governor. Photo taken Oct. 23, 2018, in Fargo, N.D. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

FARGO, N.D.-Trade.

This is the biggest agriculture-related issue that separates U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and her challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., in the Nov. 6 election.

The two candidates are well-known to their constituents. Both indicate that even though agriculture is the biggest business in their states, larger issues in the election are policy issues, border security, immigration, health care and U.S. Supreme Court nominees.

"In a lot of ways we're very similar" on ag policies, Cramer acknowledges. Both will support the reconciled farm bill, a multi-year farm support policy. Versions have passed both houses and both candidates sit on the conference committee.

No rubber stamp

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Heitkamp, 62, of the Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party, was elected to the Senate in 2012, and serves on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. She is North Dakota's only Democrat in a statewide office. She was North Dakota attorney general from 1993 to 2001, and state tax commissioner from 1986 to 1992.

Heitkamp says Cramer is willing to let the Trump administration "dictate farm policy for North Dakota, and I certainly am not." She says farmers and bankers have a high level of concern about trade policies. She says farmers and agribusinesses are beginning to see that their "long-term storage problems are really due to trade issues, and it will affect farmers' ability to refinance for the 2019 crop year.

She says the trade war has the potential for "devastating" one of the state's largest cash crops-soybeans. North Dakota farmers have paid 30 years of checkoff dollars to develop a Chinese market, which now accounts for 75 percent of the state's production.

She says Cramer supports the commodity title in the House bill that was "designed for southwest Texas" drought areas, and takes 560,000 base out of North Dakota and makes them available for cotton acres. She would like to expand beginning farmer provisions in the farm bill, which she helped make permanent in the current farm program.

Heitkamp advocates for a "congressional discussion" about trade. "Right now, the president is doing this unilaterally, without any input from Congress." she says. Heitkamp says Cramer has criticized her for reaching out to Canadian and Mexican officials on trade, but she has accused him of nearly upending important provisions with Canada on grain grading provisions in an amended North American trade pact.

Supporting Trump

Cramer, 57, has been in the House since 2013. He was North Dakota Republican Party chairman, state tourism director and served on the North Dakota Public Service Commission from 2003 to 2012.

Cramer says Heitkamp opposes "the president's trade strategies" and "undermine his leverage" in "making deals with China in particular." He says he'll "stand with the United States of America," and show a "unified front," Cramer says, especially when Trump has demonstrated "he's pretty darn good at negotiating."

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Cramer says he doesn't agree with William Wilson, North Dakota State University Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics, who recently said U.S. soybean producers can expect two to five years of low prices due to the trade disruptions and describes a build-up in export infrastructure investments in Brazil and elsewhere to fill in the gap.

Cramer cites Trump's ability to apply "leverage" in trade and other foreign policies.

"Who knew, except Donald Trump, that if you push hard enough against China that their currency would collapse, their markets would collapse, that their markets would collapse, that their economy would collapse, and that their own people-1.4 billion of them, who need to eat three times a day-would start pushing back? Even against a lifetime, if you will, dictator?"

Cramer sees no erosion of his political support among North Dakota farmers, even soybean farmers whose markets have collapsed. "Eight out of 10, maybe nine out of 10" farmers he talks to support Trump's trade goals, he says.

"China has been cheating our farmers for decades," he says, saying the Chinese subsidize farmers beyond their World Trade Organization limits with wheat, corn and rice, with "$100 billion a year, which is (equal to) seven years (of) our total subsidies for all of our crops in the United States." The Chinese are "stealing our genetics and blocking certain crops and certain sciences, just because they can," he adds.

Cramer acknowledges that the Chinese stopped buying U.S. corn entirely after the release of a Syngenta trait in the U.S. that they had not yet approved. But soybeans are different because there is a "limited supply" worldwide. He says the trade disruption has led to U.S. farmers diversifying their markets. Cramer says trade mitigation payments and possibly disaster payments can help farmers in the short-term.

"I've had a lot of farmers tell me, 'You know what? We saw this coming. That's why I sold that 1050 (tractor)," Cramer says. "This is why I put up more bins.' It's not easy for everybody to do that. Not everybody has the same opportunity." Part of that ability is their "personal relationship with their banker."

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Related Topics: HEIDI HEITKAMPKEVIN CRAMER
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