ND farmers get a voice on national ag stage

Farm Forum

North Dakota farmers will have a voice at the national agriculture table in the 2016 presidential campaign, with Gov. Jack Dalrymple among 64 people who have just been appointed to Donald Trump’s agricultural advisory committee.

The governor’s office didn’t return a phone call seeking comment on Aug. 16. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, released a statement saying that committee members represent the best the nation has to offer in the agricultural sector, and that they will be tasked with providing pioneering ideas to strengthen the nation’s agricultural industry.

“Many of these officials have been elected by their communities to solve the issues that impact our rural areas every day,” Trump said in the release. “I’m very proud to stand with these men and women, and look forward to serving those who serve all Americans from the White House.”

North Dakota agriculture leaders see the appointment as a chance to continue raising the profile of their state’s agriculture, as well as continue statewide efforts to open more doors to world trade markets and get their issues with excess regulations front and center on the national stage.

“We have a good story to tell in North Dakota, and having someone like Jack on the front and center stage can only help North Dakota agriculture, no matter which party you are from,” said Senator Terry Wanzek. He is a member of the appropriations committee during the legislative session, and a fourth generation farmer. “It’s a good symbolic recognition of North Dakota agriculture.”

The announcement came as Trump looked to improve his standing with voters in swing states such as Iowa, where more than 85 percent of land is involved in agriculture. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is ahead of Trump in that state by four points, according to the latest polling.

Other governors chosen from farm states included Sam Brownback of Kansas, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska and Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota.

The executive board is to convene on a regular basis, Trump said, and will help guide the presidential candidate’s agricultural policy.

Gene Erpelding, CEO of Allied Energy, Grain and Agronomy, said he believed Dalrymple would be a great asset to the Republican party at the national level on agriculture.

“As governor of our state, he has helped to open up some markets,” Erpelding said. “We’d certainly like to see continued growth in exports in the population centers. As the world becomes more developed and diets around the world improve, hopefully he can help us funnel our crops and livestock to those countries.”

Erpelding pointed out that North Dakota grows a greater number of speciality crops than other states. “Our crops are needed to feed the nation and the world,” he said. “Agriculture, as you know, is our heartbeat in North Dakota.”

Rep. Mike Brandenburg, who has served on the agricultural committee and is presently serving as vice chair of the government operations committee, said Dalrymple has been a long-time champion for agriculture.

“Even when Jack was chair of appropriations and we didn’t have any money, he always knew how to set a little aside so we could put some dollars into ag projects,” Brandenburg said. “He’s been a champion of agriculture. He’s always been a champion of it.”

Brandenburg said he hoped Dalrymple would be able to air some of the difficulties family farmers are facing today, which are making it more and more difficult to survive.

“We used to be able to spray our crops for $10 to $20 and today,” he said. “Those same chemicals are costing us anywhere from $40 to $70 an acre today. It’s the increased cost of getting those chemicals regulated and certified.”

He and Wanzek both expressed concerns with political pressures, and what those are doing to the agriculture industry. Brandenburg feels some of it is coming from people living in urban areas where they can see pollution and want to take action-but he points out farmers are living off the land and are thus already highly conscious of environmental stewardship. All the farmers he knows want to pass their land on to the next generation in better shape than when it was passed down to them, he said.

“More and more people want to impose restrictions on property that doesn’t affect them,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with people asking agriculture to do more, but we need to be compensated for that extra cost.”

Getting that story out into national platforms is an opportunity for North Dakota agriculture, regardless of political stripes, he suggested, adding that he believes agricultural concerns cross party lines.

“One thing about politics, when it comes to agriculture, it doesn’t matter what party you are in,” he said. “We all agree that something needs to be done to protect our lifestyle. It’s really about trying to do the right thing and find the right balance for agriculture.”

Erpelding, too, believes Dalrymple will be an effective voice on the national stage, to help get that point of view out there.

“Our governor has helped to open up markets and he comes with a good background growing up in Casselton,” Erpelding said. “He is a great asset to the Republican Party.”

Wanzek said Dalrymple was still farming portions of his land just a few years ago. He wasn’t sure about today, but said he trusts that Dalrymple’s experience as a farmer will help the governor to convey the issues of importance to North Dakota farmers to those in higher levels of policy-making.

“Knowing Jack and his background and knowledge of agriculture, he knows the ins and outs and understand the ups and downs we go through,” Wanzek said. “I trust that he understands it well enough that it will only be good for us to have that kind of exposure, to have that kind of conduit to our next president, if it does turn out to be Donald Trump. To have that kind of connection – I know you have heard the saying before, it’s not always what you know, but who. Potentially having the ear of the president and Jack’s voice to share our thoughts, it’s really a great thing for North Dakota, if it gets that far.”

And even if it doesn’t, Wanzek said, it’s great recognition for the state. “It never hurts to remind folks how great our agriculture is in North Dakota,” he said.

Brandenburg believes Dalrymple will have a chance to have an impact on the committee.

“I hope he can let the Trump administration know that what we need to do is relax these standards and the EPA rules that have become too restrictive on farming,” Brandenburg said. “He has a good way of expressing himself. I know he will have an impact. He knows the political arena.”

Growth in exports will come along as developed countries improve their diets, Erpelding pointed out, and that makes agriculture not just important, but vital for the future.

“We are talking about a world population doubling by 2050,” he said. “We have to produce more efficiently. The environment is always a concern. We need more good stewards of the land. All that comes into play.”