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Ag commissioner calls meeting about farm aid

North Dakota farm groups this week will have a chance to show a consensus on what they might identify as "sacred cows" in federal agricultural policy, heading into national budget cut talks that could set the tone for the 2012 farm bill.

North Dakota farm groups this week will have a chance to show a consensus on what they might identify as "sacred cows" in federal agricultural policy, heading into national budget cut talks that could set the tone for the 2012 farm bill.

Doug Goehring, North Dakota agriculture commissioner, has called a meeting in Bismarck so the state and region can make its voice heard in federal budget cut talks. The meeting will start at 10 a.m. Friday in the in the State Capitol's Brynhild Haugeland Room.

Goehring, reached in Fargo on Tuesday, says he's planning to review input that has already been accumulated in the region involving farm policy priority areas. He'll offer his own summary of the policy areas as a start in a discussion that could include dozens of farmer group representatives. He says the North Dakota congressional delegation has been asked to either attend or send staffers to make comments about top priorities.

After those statements, and others from congressional members or their staffers, Goehring says there'll be a "What do you think?" section. Among the areas he expects will be priorities will be strong support of federal crop insurance and perhaps shifts in policies governing haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program, especially to fit regions affected more by flooding than drought.

Goehring expects the meeting will result in a list of three or four priority items that can be carried to Washington, D.C. He says hopes those items will be used by members of the House and Senate agriculture committees to influence budget discussions involving the so-called the Super Committee of 12 congressional members seeking to cut $1.5 trillion out of the budget.

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Because the budget will drive the policy in what is expected to be a pared back farm program, Goehring says it is important for the state to say what its highest priority items are, and not wait until next year, as the House Agriculture Committee had planned to.

"We are going to be in the farm bill discussion right now!" Goehring says. "Let's face it, if you're going to make some cuts, that's going to be pretty much what the farm bill is going to look like." He doesn't expect a list of consensus priorities will offer specific budget guidelines, or specific programs that should be cut.

He says he'll also bring the results of the meeting to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, to help form their national priorities.

"We'd just as soon not throw anybody under the bus," Goehring says, but it will be up to farmers in other regions to make their best argument for programs that most affect them.

The state agriculture commissioner, whose job primarily is to regulate agriculture in the state, historically doesn't host federal farm policy discussions like this one.

Goehring says he decided to hold the meeting anyway, because he can see how farm bill policies will affect his own farming, and those of his fellow farmers. He says the state agricultural department head in North Dakota is an elected position, and such a meeting could put the state "ahead of the curve" in putting forward its priorities for the 2012 farm bill.

Farm bills cover several years and provide support for crops, livestock, conservation, nutrition, trade, agricultural research, farm credit, rural development, energy, forestry and other programs, in a group of titles.

Goehring says he didn't attend a set of North Dakota Farmers Union-hosted discussions on the farm bill, held earlier this summer, because he wasn't aware of them until scheduling was a problem. One of his staff members attended one of the meetings.

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Farmers Union officials are among those invited to Friday's meeting, as well as the North Dakota Farm Bureau, an organization Goehring once led as vice president. The state Farm Bureau has passed a resolution advocating eliminating all government agricultural payments.

Goehring says he's "not sure where they're at," but said he welcomes their participation.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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