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Published August 06 2012

North Dakota ag leaders urge 5-year farm bill, not short-term fix

FARGO – North Dakota agriculture representatives say they’re not interested in Congress passing a short-term extension of farm policy when a five-year bill is on the table.

“Five years of certainty is much better than one year of uncertainty,” said Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association.

Ag leaders, like Lilja, expressed their concerns about Congress’ inaction on the 2012 farm bill during a discussion here Monday with U.S. Reps. Rick Berg, R-N.D., and Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

Congress is on a five-week recess until early September. Some House members, like Berg and Noem, are using the holiday to garner more support for the farm bill in their home districts, as a means to convince House GOP leaders to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

House Republican leaders have stalled the legislation because they aren’t convinced they have the 218 votes needed to pass the bill, Berg said.

Berg and Noem want the farm bill to pass the House so disagreements with the Senate version can be ironed out and finalized before Sept. 30, when current law expires.

“We are very cautious of the fact that if you brought a farm bill to the House floor and it failed, that’d be detrimental to our end game and getting something accomplished,” Noem said, “but the process is so broken. We need to have a vote.”

Facing pressure, GOP leaders recently backed off plans for a one-year extension of farm law because House members demanded consideration of a five-year bill instead. North Dakota agriculture leaders said the politics of Washington are only sparking more concern and frustration.

“It’s taking herding cats to a whole new level,” said Steve Edwardson, executive administrator of the North Dakota Barley Council.

“Leadership is making this a partisan thing,” said Paul Rutherford, president of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association. “We need some certainty out here, and right now, there’s nothing going on.”

Berg is among a bloc of House members leading a petition effort that started last Thursday to force the 2012 farm bill to the floor for a vote. Members won’t officially be able to sign on to the petition until September. Berg spokesman Chris Pack said his office “doesn’t have firm numbers yet” as to how many and which members will back the effort.

Berg said he’s hopeful the petition will put pressure on his party’s leaders to act sooner rather than later.

“I totally agree with your frustration,” Berg told North Dakota ag leaders. “I’m not for doing a one-year extension; I’m for a five-year bill done by the end of September.”

“I couldn’t feel more strongly about how this needs to get to the floor and it needs to pass on a bipartisan basis,” he added. “This has got to be done now. That’s the message I heard today, and that’s the message I’m going to take back to leadership.”

Berg is a candidate for the U.S. Senate this year. His opponent, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, said Berg’s efforts to force a House vote are too little too late, since Congress only has eight working days left before Sept. 30.

“I don’t think he has a strategy for moving this forward,” Heitkamp said. “It’s a failure of leadership.”

“Rick Berg (said) he could be effective for North Dakota because he had a relationship with the leadership … and that those relationships would pay off benefits to North Dakota,” she added. “We certainly haven’t seen it on the single most important piece of legislation that we have.”


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541