U.S. Senate candidates go country at Farmfestby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
The candidates for Minnesota's U.S. Senate seat sparred over agriculture policy today at Farmfest near Redwood Falls. Republican Mark Kennedy and Democrat Amy Klobuchar both said it may be a good idea to extend current federal agriculture programs instead of writing a new farm bill next year. They disagreed over which one is the true friend of the farmer.
Redwood Falls, Minn. — Farmfest has become an almost mandatory stop in August for state candidates. It's a place to try and win the rural vote. Joining Kennedy and Klobuchar at Farmfest were Robert Fitzgerald of the Independence Party and Green party nominee Mike Cavlan.
Generous federal farm subsidies have helped farmers stay profitable the past several years. Many farmers think congress should simply extend the current programs rather than write a new agriculture package.
Republican U.S. Rep. Kennedy, who represents Minnesota's 6th District, says he supports the idea under certain conditions. He says if there's progress in resolving world trade issues, it makes sense to extend the farm bill to see what changes the trade talks bring. Kennedy said if Congress takes the alternate course, and moves ahead with a new farm bill there are several items he'd like included, such as steps to cover farmers affected by bad weather like the current drought.
"So if you have disasters as was mentioned up in the northwest, where you have floods one year and drought the next, you make sure you have that covered," Kennedy said. "Clearly making sure that the dairy farmers are covered by milk. We had an energy bill in the last farm bill, we need to have even a stronger one this next farm bill."
Democrat Klobuchar supported many of the same concepts, including a strong emphasis on energy. She criticized President Bush and several steps he's taken on agricultural policy. The World Trade Organization is trying to get developed countries to reduce farm subsidies. The WTO believes if that happens it will make farming more profitable in developing countries. Klobuchar said the president's position on trade talks and subsidies hurts farmers.
"This administration went before the WTO and asked for a 60 percent cut in farm support," Klobuchar said. "I don't think that's right when we've got all these tax giveaways going to the oil companies and all these tax giveaways going to corporate special interests. I'm going to be there to fight for the family farmer of Minnesota."
The only time the two major candidates tangled was when Republican Kennedy accused Democrat Klobuchar of being too close to environmental groups. Kennedy said Klobuchar and the other candidates at Farmfest had friends who cause problems for farmers.
"To have dairy farmers you know what else you need to have? You need to have manure," Kennedy said. "And if you look at who's endorsing my opponents. My opponents and the others sitting here are supported by organizations that think manure is a hazardous waste."
Klobuchar shook her head over the comment and at the next opportunity said she does not think manure is a hazardous waste.
Green Party candidate Mike Cavlan was the most vocal about current federal farm policies. He said they favor large farms at the expense of small family farms.
"We need to get ourselves away from corporate farming. You guys know this. You're sitting here in rural Minnesota. You know what these interests are doing to your local farms," said Cavlan.
Many farmers at the debate were interested in what sorts of positions the candidates took on new energy sources based on agricultural products. Independence party candidate Robert Fitzgerald said he's incorporated his thoughts on energy into his politics, specifically his campaign bus.
"Energy independence, it's not impossible we certainly can do it," said Fitzgerald. "I'm talking about my bus that I'm running on vegetable oil. Took me a weekend to convert that to run on a 100 percent renewable energy resource. The United States of America, a great country, we can be energy independent."
Fitzgerald. is one of seven candidates trying for the senate seat left open when DFL'er Mark Dayton announced he would not seek another term.