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State, national House candidates meet in forum at Stevens County Fair

Clockwise, from top left: Representative Collin Peterson, Lee Byberg, Scott Dutcher and Jay McNamar. Peterson and Byberg are running to represent District 7 in the House of Representatives. Dutcher and McNamar are running to represent District 12A in the Minnesota House of Representatives.4 / 4

MORRIS - Two candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and two for the Minnesota House met at a candidate forum focused on agriculture at the Stevens County Fair last Saturday, but did not find many areas to disagree on when discussing industry regulation and the role of government oversight in farming.

The forum, moderated by Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Papp, included both candidates running to represent District 12A in the Minnesota House of Representatives - Jay McNamar (DFL) and Scott Dutcher (GOP) - as well as Rep. Collin Peterson and his GOP challenger in District 7, Lee Byberg.

All four candidates emphasized their opposition to government involvement in how farmers care for their animals, manage their farms and implement conservation practices on their land.

Dutcher, a lawyer and city council member in Brandon, Minn., told the crowd he was against any regulations that would make farmers' lives harder, including regulations on animal care or soil conservation practices like minimum tillage.

"Let me make this as simple as I possibly can: If you're a farmer, any regulation that makes your life more difficult, that makes it more difficult for you to do business, I oppose," said Dutcher. "We are way beyond what is necessary to protect the environment, to protect the health of our livestock."

McNamar, the mayor of Elbow Lake, said that he supports minimum tillage requirements, but the decision about how to handle land should be left up to individual farmers. Although there is a temptation to farm fence line to fence line and take down groves of trees or wind breakers when crop prices are high, McNamar cautioned farmers about the practice.

"But it's got to be up to the individual farmer about how to handle his land," said McNamar. "I'm imploring you guys, save some of that habitat. Protect some of the environment."

An area of disagreement among Willmar businessman Byberg and Peterson came up during a discussion about the national Farm Bill, which Peterson has co-sponsored as the ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee.

Byberg praised the bill's shift in focus towards risk management and crop insurance, rather than direct payments, and urged Congress to bring the bill to a full vote on the House floor.

However, Byberg said he was "very much opposed to" the dairy supply management program that Peterson has been promoting.

"This dairy policy is wrong for three reasons," said Byberg. "We don't need more government involvement, number one. Number two, it's not good for Minnesota producers. Thirdly, if the world market knows that the U.S. taxpayers will pay for this, then they can increase supply in other countries and taxpayers in the U.S. will pay for it."

Peterson said he felt the most important part of the bill for agriculture is crop insurance, which is something that is not normally included in the Farm Bill. Peterson also defended the new dairy policy included in the bill.

"The current dairy policy is completely outmoded and actually interferes more in the marketplace than what we're proposing in this bill," said Peterson.

The bill gets rid of a price support system that encouraged dairy plants to be built specifically to sell to the government and replaced it with a more market- and export-oriented system. The new policy includes insurance similar to the crop insurance program, with the government helping to subsidize some of the cost of the insurance, said Peterson.

"In terms of the stabilization fund or supply management, there's no government involvement in this and it's not like Europe or Canada at all," said Peterson. "If we oversupply, what's going to happen is the producers are going to pay, not the government."

For more from Saturday's debate, visit our website for video of select questions and topics of discussion.