Where do Berg, Pomeroy stand on ag?

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 ...

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 both 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 federal legislators will draft, deliberate and ultimately vote on the next farm bill -- the bedrock of federal agriculture policy.


Work on the bill is already underway, with initial efforts that began earlier this year by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, a Democrat who represents western Minnesota.

A strong foundation

Farmland makes up about 90 percent of North Dakota -- and last year, the 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 at the end of 2011, 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."


Proposed changes

Berg and Pomeroy support the farm bill as it functions now, but both would like to see changes made to strengthen the next round of legislation.

Berg said a crop insurance program that insures based on both price and yield will be a significant 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 would like to see 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."

That cost-savings also could be one solution, Pomeroy said, to addressing an expensive provision in the next bill that stands to provide long-term benefit to the Red River Valley.


Peterson, the chairman, proposes securing $500 million over the next 10 years for regional water retention and flood mitigation efforts.

But in order to do that, $500 million must be cut from elsewhere in the bill.

Aside from Pomeroy's suggestion, both Berg and Pomeroy said they'd look to and trust in Peterson's leadership in determining where cuts should be made to ensure the retention plan is included in the bill.

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 prove valuable in the amount of sway he could have in the legislative process.

Pomeroy says Peterson calls him his "wingman" on the committee.

Daum is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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