Published October 10 2010
Pomeroy, Berg discuss farm billAbout this series
On Nov. 2, North Dakota voters will decide the fate of the state’s only U.S. House seat.
In his bid for a 10th term, Democrat Earl Pomeroy faces a strong challenge by Fargo legislator Rick Berg – a Republican who’s consistently led Pomeroy in monthly polling.
The Forum asked Berg and Pomeroy where they stand on a host of issues, and each week leading up to Election Day, we’re highlighting their positions on topics including the economy, the federal budget, health care, Social Security, agriculture, energy and Red River Valley flood protection.
Previously, we analyzed the candidates’ positions on the economy, the federal budget, health care and energy.
This week: a look at agriculture.
In focus: Agriculture
Agriculture has been North Dakota’s foundation for generations, and it continues to be a vital sector, with the state leading the nation in producing various kinds of crops.
In 2009, the state had an estimated 32,000 farms covering about 39.6 million acres of land. Field crops totaled a production value of more than $5.5 billion in North Dakota that year.
The booming industry relies in part on federal government aid and programs that provide stability in the face of unpredictable harvests. (North Dakota ranked ninth last year in receiving government payments.)
As Congress enters its next session in January, one priority for rural-based representatives will be crafting the 2012 farm bill.
Born of North Dakota’s earliest roots, agriculture continues to fuel the economic engine of the state.
Vast fields bloom everything from barley to sunflowers, and tilling the earth provides a way of life for the majority of residents here in the northernmost Great Plains.
The significance of agriculture issues is familiar to Democratic-NPL Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Republican challenger Rick Berg.
Pomeroy, a Valley City native, is the son of a farm retailer. Berg spent his youth in Hettinger working with cattle as the son of a large-animal veterinarian.
On Nov. 2, North Dakota voters will elect one of these men to serve in the next Congress, where lawmakers will draft, deliberate and ultimately vote on the next farm bill – the bedrock of federal agriculture policy.
Work on the bill is already under way with initial efforts that began earlier this year by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, a Democrat who represents western Minnesota.
A solid foundation
Farmland makes up about 90 percent of North Dakota. Last year, crops harvested from the state’s soil totaled an estimated production value of more than $5.5 billion, according to data from the U.S. and state departments of agriculture.
“We have never had it this good in North Dakota in agriculture,” Berg said. “Our yields are bin-busters.”
The current farm bill, which expires in 2012, provides a solid foundation for advancing agriculture policy in the next session, Pomeroy said.
“We’ve got a farm bill that’s working, I think, best ever,” said Pomeroy, who sits as a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee.
Particularly, Pomeroy said, he likes the strong crop insurance and disaster aid programs that provide stability for farmers in a volatile line of work.
“The farm bill backstops agriculture,” he said. “We’ve got family-farmer production agriculture, and without adequate risk protection, you have banks afraid to lend and you have families placed in jeopardy if you’ve got price collapse or production failure. So a strong farm bill matters enormously.”
Berg and Pomeroy support the farm bill as it functions now, but both want to see changes to strengthen the next round of legislation.
Berg said a crop insurance program that insures based on price and yield will be a “big component” to the next bill.
He also wants revisions made in how farmers receive federal payments, specifically in a way that reflects agriculture’s current good times.
“The counter-cyclical part of the farm bill and the direct payments of the farm bill, those were geared in part for when we have low prices,” Berg said. “We need a long-term farm bill that reflects what I see or what people see going on in agriculture – that we’re going to have a pretty good run here in the next number of years.”
Pomeroy also wants reforms made to direct payments – an area he said could be a cost-saver when federal spending will be tight.
“The farm bill needs to be there when people have tough times,” Pomeroy said. “I don’t think it needs to send checks when people are in good times. … I’m not talking about ending direct payments, but some alternatives to the program consistent with the budget concerns that the next Congress is going to have.”
Cost savings also could be one solution to addressing an expensive provision in the next bill that stands to provide long-term benefit to the Red River Valley, Pomeroy said.
Peterson, the House Agriculture Committee chairman, proposes securing $500 million over the next 10 years to fund regional water retention and flood mitigation efforts.
But in order to do that, $500 million must be cut from elsewhere in the bill.
Berg said, “I don’t have a specific comment” on where to cut.
Pomeroy’s suggestion aside, though, both candidates said they’d look to and trust in Peterson’s leadership in determining where cuts could be made to ensure the retention plan is included in the bill.
“He understands the farm bill, and I would work with him to balance things out,” Berg said.
In good company
Pomeroy and Berg say they can each have influence in the next farm bill, but those strengths would come in different forms.
As with energy policy, Pomeroy said his seniority in the House and his assignments on the Ag Committee and Ways and Means Committee will be valuable in the amount of sway he could have in the legislative process.
Pomeroy said Peterson calls him his “wingman” on the Ag Committee.
“Collin’s the architect for this, and I’m absolutely 100 percent on board,” Pomeroy said.
If elected, Berg will enter the House as a freshman representative, lacking cultivated relationships that develop over time in office.
But Berg does have campaign support from House Minority Leader John Boehner, a Republican who stands to become speaker if the partisan majority switches hands after the Nov. 2 midterm elections.
But since Boehner voted against the last farm bill, Berg acknowledged he might not find an ally in the senior Republican when it comes to agriculture policy.
That shouldn’t be an issue, though, Berg said.
“If the Republicans take control, that’s going to be 40 new Republicans elected, and I’ve met many of those freshmen, and they come at it with the same perspective that I do,” Berg said, referencing his campaign pledge to get the economy working again by controlling spending and the federal deficit.
“I’ve had a little bit of experience building coalitions, and I look to that as being a huge coalition that can help get us back on track,” Berg said. “I think there’s going to be a real opportunity for the Midwest to have more influence than we ever have.”
Berg, Pomeroy debate again Monday in Fargo
North Dakota’s U.S. House candidates meet Monday for their second of three planned debates before Election Day.
Democratic-NPL incumbent Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Republican Fargo legislator Rick Berg will face off at 3 p.m. at the Fargo Holiday Inn in an event sponsored by the North Dakota Associated Press Broadcasters Association.
Tune in to WDAY 970 AM to hear the one-hour debate when it’s broadcast live.
Berg and Pomeroy clashed in a spirited debate last week on Prairie Public TV. Their third planned debate will be broadcast by KFYR-TV in Bismarck at 8 p.m. Friday and aired live on KVLY/KXJB in Fargo and other affiliates statewide.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541