On Saturday, July 14 United States Senator Mary Kathryn “Heidi” Heitkamp visited the NDSU Langdon Research Extension Center (LREC) and then had a roundtable discussion about the 2018 Farm Bill at the Langdon Library. Her visit is part of a series of meetings with farmers, ranchers, and agricultural leaders from around the state.
By Lisa Nowatzki
During Heitkamp’s visit to the grounds of the LREC, she spoke with several employees at the center including Randy Mehlhoff, Director of the LREC; Naeem Kalwar, Extension Soil Health Specialist; and Dr. Venkat Chapara, Assistant Research Professor/Plant Pathology.
During Heitkamp’s tour, Kalwar and Dr. Chapara conducted a very informative and enlightening tour of the grounds. Kalwar first talked about the importance of soils and soil health with Senator Heitkamp. Dr. Chapara gave Senator Heitkamp an overview of the experiments that he is currently conducting at the research center.
Of particular interest to Heitkamp is an experiment using honey bees and bumblebees. Dr. Chapara explained that using bees to deliver a biological agent to combat disease is not new. The method, Bee Vectoring Technology, has been used successfully in South Africa and Canada to fight disease in strawberry plants. At the LREC, Dr. Chapara uses the bees to deliver a naturally occurring biological disease agent to the sunflowers to prevent sunflower head rot.
Dr. Chapara and Director Mehlhoff also discussed the LREC’s experiments with hemp. The ongoing and comprehensive study covers all aspects of growing commercial hemp including selecting the hardiest and most disease resistant varieties that have the largest crop yield.
Kalwar spoke at length with Senator Heitkamp about some of the experiments he and the local producers are conducting. Kalwar told Heitkamp about his efforts to help manage unproductive areas in cropland around the county. He emphasized the importance of testing those areas for salinity and sodicity. Kalwar also spoke about planting grasses and rotating with crops that are resistant to high levels of sodic and saline in the soil.
During the tour of the LREC, Senator Heitkamp spoke to the group about the importance of government-sponsored research, and how she would continue to support and advocate for the advancement of agronomy and crop production management research through federally sponsored grants and programs like those included in the 2018 Farm Bill.
After the tour of the LREC, Senator Heitkamp continued to a roundtable discussion at the Cavalier County Library with producers and other professionals involved in and supported by the commodities grown in and around Cavalier County.
The local surrounding areas were well represented. Present at the meeting were several farmers from the area including Langdon, Crystal, Sharon, Edmore, and Lakota. Also present were Langdon city and county officials, the Edmore mayor, bankers, and crop insurance agents.
During the discussion, Heitkamp kept the group solidly on task, discussing only the Farm Bill and her solutions to the problems farmers and producers are facing in light of the new tariffs. Heitkamp explained that the Farm Bill had passed the Senate with bipartisan support.
When asked about her solution to the damage to local growers by the newly imposed tariffs, she replied that a bipartisan group of senators, including herself, were trying to pass legislation that limits the power of the President to impose tariffs under the guise of national security. By applying this encompassing GOP and Democratic pressure, she believes they can make the President back down and lessen the damaging effects of the tariffs.
One person in the audience, Anitha Chirumamilla, Cavalier County Extension Agent, told Heitkamp that she disagreed and thought that “the damage has already been done.” Heitkamp assured the group that she was in Langdon to listen and understand the problems and concerns of local producers. She was also committed to helping North Dakota ag producers and ranchers with the passing of the final Farm Bill.
Todd Borchardt, President of Choice Financial Bank in Langdon, suggested several remedies that could be helpful in immediate future. Currently, farmers can borrow against the value of their stored commodities, like soybeans. If commodity prices are low, instead of selling their soybeans the USDA will grant the producer a loan base on the current price of soybeans. If the crop is selling for $9.00 a bushel, then the USDA will back a loan for $4 to $5 a bushel. Borchardt told Heitkamp if the USDA would give loans for $6 or $7 a bushel on the $9 price of stored grain, farmers would have more working capital.
Another suggestion Borchardt gave was to decrease the payout times for programs like Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). With these programs, after growers qualify, they typically have to wait 12 months for a payout, in October for some commodities. Borchardt suggested to Heitkamp to consider paying out in the spring rather than in the fall, decreasing the time farmers have to wait for reimbursement by six months.
Heitkamp listened and agreed that all three programs could use some tweaking and thought that they could provide some immediate relief for producers that have been hurt by the budding tariff disputes. She also assured everyone in the room that she is dedicated to protecting and improving crop insurance.
For nearly two hours, Senator Heitkamp listened to concerns about the administration’s looming trade war and detailed her efforts to promote a smarter trade policy that expands markets for North Dakota producers, including frequent meetings with administration officials and by cosponsoring bipartisan legislation to give Congress a say in the application of tariffs.