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House candidates strive to please farmers

Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar told a tent full of farmers Wednesday that she supported the Senate-passed farm bill and hopes a version of it becomes law soon. (Photo by Don Davis)

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. -- It is no surprise that U.S. House candidates speaking to farmers will say they support agriculture, but on Tuesday, six of them delivered subtle signs of differences.

In southern Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, for example, U.S. Representative Tim Walz strongly supported a farm bill awaiting House action, Allen Quist opposed it for being too heavy on food stamps and not paying enough attention to farmers and Mike Parry fell in the middle.

In western Minnesota's 7th Congressional District, U.S. Representative Collin Peterson said finding money to make needed transportation improvements "will be difficult in this climate," while challenger Lee Byberg said the money will come if farmers and businesses are allowed to grow.

The comments came Tuesday as candidates spent more time wiping off sweat and fanning themselves than they did arguing during a Farmfest forum. U.S. Senate candidates will be on the hot seat Wednesday.

Farmfest opened near Redwood Falls on Tuesday for a three-day run and, like in all election years, politics filled the air in the midst of an event where farmers see the latest machinery, crops and other agriculture information.

In addition to the 1st and 7th District races, the 2nd district, to the south of the Twin Cities, was represented. Democrat Mike Obermueller answered questions, but U.S. Representative John Kline turned down Farmfest's offer to appear.

Republican Byberg and Peterson are in a repeat of their 2010 race. Peterson has been in the House since 1991, and is the top-ranking Agriculture Committee Democrat.

Byberg's philosophy is of allowing farmers and businesses freedom to earn more money. He said in an interview that he is building a coalition of those groups to support his race.

Jobs are produced locally, Byberg said, not by Washington politicians. He said congressional leaders have just "stood by" over the years and not taken action to help businesses.

"Bring free enterprise back, empower the people to ... innovate," Byberg told the farmers.

Also, he said, too many young Americans would rather "take checks than jobs." Leaders need to change that by example, he added.

In a separate interview, Peterson said that farmers are in the best position they have seen since he entered the House, some of it due to federal decisions.

Crop insurance, a federal-private partnership, is a prime example of how farmers have benefited, he said. Peterson said he no longer is farming because he had to leave the profession due to lack of crop insurance at the time.

While some want to move away from crop insurance, Peterson disagreed. "This is not the time to be changing things," he said.

When he was talking to the tent full of farmers, Peterson repeatedly talked about things he has done to help them.

For one thing, he said that he talked to the leader of the Environmental Protection Agency when it appeared the agency would force farmers to enact dust-control procedures. Peterson reported that she said an underling in the agency suggested that, but it was not in the works.

Byberg called for cutting some agencies, such as the EPA, in half and making regulations among agencies more consistent.

"The largeness of the federal government cannot be sustained," he said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.