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Dave Olson, Published March 01 2012

Growers talk farm bill: Gas prices among top concerns at Moorhead meeting

MOORHEAD – A small group of area farmers met with congressional staff members here Thursday morning to hear about and share their concerns regarding 2012 farm bill issues.

Given the politics in Washington these days, passing a farm bill may be daunting this year, said Al Juhnke, agriculture and energy field representative for Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

The sooner Congress takes up the task, the better, Juhnke said.

“The closer you get to Election Day, the tougher it will be to move any legislation,” he told the dozen or so farmers and other interested parties who showed up for a farm bill listening session at Moorhead City Hall.

Representatives of Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., also spoke at the meeting.

Juhnke said something that might boost support for a farm bill is better communication about what’s in a farm bill. Roughly 75 percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget is about food and nutrition and only a small percentage actually involves farm programs, he said.

Given the push to cut federal spending, Juhnke said it’s likely things such as direct payments to farmers will fall by the wayside in a new farm bill,

But he said Franken will fight to prevent cuts in things such as the crop insurance program.

Larry Jacobson, who farms south of Hitterdal, said he wants safety nets for growers maintained in the farm bill.

Joel Stola, who farms in Polk and Norman counties, was concerned about the rising price of fuel.

“How high can it go?” he asked.

Juhnke agreed the situation is troubling, and he said it points to the need for a federal energy bill, something that hasn’t happened for many years.

“You look at Iran,” he said. “Because they decide to quit selling fuel to Great Britain and France, we all pay more at the pump? That makes no sense.”

Juhnke said speculation appears to be driving some of the price rise for a barrel of oil and as long as that doesn’t get out of hand it is a normal part of any market picture.

But when prices start to explode because of speculation, he said, “then you need some tighter regulation.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555