BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – North Dakota’s biggest farm group wants increased crop subsidies and other revenue loss protections in the compromise version of the massive federal farm bill to guard against retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agriculture exports.
“There are outside factors out of our control and we need to raise the prices as a safety net to keep farmers farming,” said Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, which has more than 45,000 members in the state. “The quickest way to resolve this is to raise those reference prices. That would make everybody feel substantially better.”
Watne brought that message Friday to a meeting of more than three dozen agriculture officials and others hosted by Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer to discuss the House and Senate versions of the 2018 farm bill.
Cramer was named this week as a House conferee to reconcile the two versions of the legislation that would renew farm programs such as crop subsidies, insurance and land conservation. The negotiations come amid low commodity prices and farmers increasingly are worried that President Donald Trump’s tariffs on foreign imports may depress commodity prices further.
Cramer, in an interview with The Associated Press, said he will consider pushing for more money in the legislation but was concerned that it could stall it.
“I think we want to avoid further complicating an already far-too-complicated farm bill,” Cramer said.
Cramer said the Trump administration is looking at options to guard against short-term market disruptions the tariffs could cause.
“There is a possibility of using existing authorities and dollars to mitigate any losses farmers may incur,” he said. “I’m just not sure the farm bill is the vehicle for that.”
Some at what Cramer called a “listening session” told the state’s lone congressman that they agreed in principal with Trump’s tariffs but they wanted assurance it would not do long-term damage.
“I don’t want a check from the government … I want to have a fair market,” said Mark Martinson, who raises crops and cattle in north-central North Dakota and is president of the U.S. Durum Growers Association.
Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports already is hitting some agriculture producers in increased machinery and other costs, said Chris Bjorneby, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association.
“We need to get it addressed and we need to get it addressed as soon as possible,” he said.
Cramer and Watne agreed that crop insurance remains among the most important elements for North Dakota’s agriculture industry. Both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill contain enhanced crop insurance, with some differences that need to be resolved.
Cramer has said the biggest sticking points in House-Senate negotiations will be over funding for food stamps for the needy, something that doesn’t necessarily affect most North Dakotans. The House wants to tighten work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The Senate version largely avoided any changes to the program.
Watne said both versions of the farm bill are “relatively similar” as they relate to agriculture. But he prefers the Senate version largely because it does not significantly change the food stamp program and is “more likely to pass” with bipartisan support.
The Senate has not named its conferees.
North Dakota’s two U.S. senators supported their chamber’s legislation. Republican Sen. John Hoeven was a member of the House-Senate conference committee that approved the compromise in the 2014 farm bill, which expires in September.
Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has said the farm bill is a top priority. She has been critical of Trump’s tariffs, saying they will threaten North Dakota’s economy.
Cramer is challenging Heitkamp in a race seen as critical for control of the closely divided Senate.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.