MOORHEAD - Leaving the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact, along with the growing trade war with China and other nations, is hurting the region's farmers, ranchers and other industries, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said Friday, Aug. 24.

Heitkamp, who sat down with the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce's agribusiness committee, said not having the markets of the TPP and retaliation by China for U.S. tariffs has dried up sales for North Dakota's soybean farmers, painting a gloomy picture for selling this year's bumper crop.

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"I will be damned if this trade war is going to be fought on the back of North Dakota agriculture," Heitkamp told the group, which included bankers and representatives of the soybean, corn, grain and sugar industries.

"I don't think we can overstate the potential damage that can be done" due to the trade war, Heitkamp said, adding that North Dakota may be "the hardest hit" state, so far.

Nancy Johnson, executive director of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association, said there have been zero orders in the last seven weeks to have beans shipped to Pacific Northwest ports for shipment to Asia, where the bulk of North Dakota's soybeans are sold.

"We need to be in TPP ... to give you market access," Heitkamp said.

Heitkamp said it's true China must stop requiring that U.S. firms turn over technology and intellectual property as part of trade deals, but tactics other than tariffs would be more effective.

Renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement has gone slowly. An agreement appears close with Mexico, but Canada has yet to return to the table.

In the meantime, tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico, done under a section of law reserved for security threats to the U.S., make operations more expensive for the oil industry and manufacturers of farm equipment and buildings, Heitkamp said.

"Canada is not a national security threat," she said, adding that North Dakota has the ninth most-dependent state economy when it comes to steel.

Farm bill issues

Heitkamp is one of nine senators on the farm bill conference committee. She said the first meeting comes after Labor Day, and the aim is to have a bill ready by the end of September.

"There is an incredible amount of interest in getting this done and on time," Heitkamp said.

She said three concerns appear to have consensus support.

First, "Don't mess around with crop insurance," she said. "We're trying to hang on to that all-important safety net."

Second, seek to raise reference prices that determine the amount paid out for crop-loss coverage.

And third, keeping the sugar program in place. "We're feeling pretty confident" that sugar is not in jeopardy, she said.

Heitkamp said she expects some debate over the amount of acreage to be allowed in the Conservation Reserve Program.

She'd also like to see programs created to help farmers and ranchers deal with the stresses of their jobs, and programs to provide food security and nutrition assistance on tribal lands.

Heitkamp said she's pushing for permanent funding for beginning farmer and rancher training programs.