Opponent says Peterson missed points
REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. - Western Minnesota voters have a choice between a powerful U.S. House Agriculture Committee chairman and a second-time challenger who thinks a recently enacted farm bill falls short.
Republican challenger Glen Menze said on Tuesday that the farm bill, which sets federal agriculture policy for years, did not have enough specific "risk management" provisions such as crop insurance for farmers. The omissions are especially hard on small farmers, he said.
However, he was in the minority of Democrats and Republicans who spoke at a FarmFest forum. Most other congressional candidates praised the farm bill.
Menze's opponent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, was a major author of the legislation as ag committee chairman. Peterson presented the farm bill as a compromise that treats Minnesota farmers well.
The forum came at FarmFest, an annual southwestern Minnesota gathering of farmers and agri-businessmen. Western Minnesota's 7th Congressional District and southern Minnesota's 1st Congressional District were the only ones in which all major candidates appeared.
After the forum, Menze said he and Peterson have several differences. Among them are Peterson's inclusion of cotton and rice subsidies in the new farm bill. Peterson said he doesn't think southern farmers would agree with Menze that he was easy on them.
Peterson, who was top Democrat on the committee before his party took over control and he rose to the top, told about 800 in the FarmFest audience that he has begun to make changes in farm policy after southerners ran the committee for years.
The chairman said he is particularly proud of sugar and dairy provisions in the bill because they give producers of those products more protection than they used to have.
Menze said he probably would have opposed the farm bill in the Agriculture Committee, but reluctantly voted for it when it reached a full House vote.
A new law setting renewable fuel standards is good for farmers, Peterson said.
"We in the Congress have the responsibility of getting us off oil," he added.
To do that, he said, Congress needs to consider a variety of measures, including increasing nuclear power, drilling off-shore oil and continuing to increase aid to those producing renewable energy such as wind power.
Menze called for a national requirement that 10 percent of gasoline be plant-based ethanol. Minnesota was the first state to require that, but most states do not have such a rule.
All on the panel favored more conservation work and opposed a bill written by U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., to clean the country's water.
"I am totally opposed to the clean-water bill and will do everything I can to stop it," Peterson said because as written it would hurt farmers. "We certainly don't need any more regulations."
Peterson's comment was noteworthy because Oberstar is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the dispute sets up a fight between two powerful Minnesota congressmen.
Farmers fear Oberstar's bill would too strictly regulate what they can do with water.
Republican challenger Brian Davis in the 1st Congressional District, serving most of southern Minnesota, repeatedly told the FarmFest audience that opening waters off the country's coast to oil drilling would help lower farmers' energy costs. He talked about off-shore drilling when answering more than half of the farm leaders' questions at the forum.
Davis, a Mayo Clinic doctor, and state Sen. Dick Day are locked in a Republican primary election battle. The winner of the September vote will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in the November general election.
While many speakers at FarmFest talked of saving the family farm, the often-blunt Day had his own assessment: "Whether you like it or not, the small family farm is gone."
Day and Davis were critical of new federal farm policy, but mostly because 70 percent of it has little to do with farming. Walz defended the bill.
"It made sure the safety net is there," Walz said.
However, Walz added, commodities such as crops probably could have fared better.
Day's big concern for federal farm policy is over-regulation.
"A fringe group" opposes farmers, he said, and that group should not control farm policy.
Energy was a major part of the forum discussion. Walz said he likes renewable energy standards recently put into law.
"They have done wonders," the first-term congressman said.
The standards help to encourage things like ethanol and wind power, both good for Minnesota, he said.
He also said he would accept ideas like off-shore drilling that Davis promoted. But, he added, it would only be if big oil companies did not overly profit.
Day joined Davis in calling for more oil drilling. He also said he supports more drilling in a controversial area of Alaska.
Davis said government regulations "messed up" the nuclear power industry. He did not specifically call for less federal regulation, but did encourage more nuclear power plants to be built.
Walz said 14 hearings he held on the farm bill shows his leadership ability.
Davis said he has traveled the southern Minnesota district, finding that more oil drilling and estate and capital gains taxes are hurting farmers.
Day promoted his time in the state Senate, where he has dealt with transportation and agriculture issues, and said he is fine with his status "a little outside the Republican Party."
Elwyn Tinklenberg, a Democrat challenging Republican Michele Bachmann in the 6th Congressional District, said he likes the new farm bill and would have voted for it. Bachmann, who did not attend the forum, opposed it.
"She hasn't been with you that much," he told farmers, suggesting that is why Bachmann skipped the event.
Steve Sarvi, a Democratic challenger in the 2nd Congressional District, said young people will remain in rural Minnesota if they have economic incentive, but added: "Rural communities need to be more than just farming." His Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. John Kline, did not attend FarmFest.