Sen. Heitkamp

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., answers a question posed by the Grand Forks Herald editorial board.

For any U.S. senator from North Dakota, passing a strong Farm Bill should be priority No. 1 -- and that’s certainly the case for me. The Farm Bill is key to making sure farmers have the certainty they need to take huge financial risks every year getting their crop in the field.

Unlike my opponent who has never served on the Agriculture Committee, my first priority when I joined the Senate was first to make sure I was on that committee, so I could help pass a strong Farm Bill for our state. As a member, I got that chance in 2014. While the House bill nearly failed over a partisan provision Rep. Kevin Cramer supported, I worked across the aisle with Sen. John Hoeven to help write and negotiate a strong Farm Bill. And the minute it passed I got to work on the next one.

As one of just nine U.S. senators on the Farm Bill conference committee -- and as an Agriculture Committee member with jurisdiction over 100 percent of the bill -- I’ll be able fight for North Dakota in every piece of the final Farm Bill. This summer alone, I heard directly farmers and ranchers from all corners of our state -- from Dickinson, Kindred, and Wahpeton to Grand Forks, Langdon, Rugby, and Minot -- about what’s working and what needs to be fixed to make the Farm Bill strong.

It’s their insight that’s most valuable, and it’s their concerns I made sure were represented in the Senate’s Farm Bill. I fought to protect crop insurance, secure a fix to the ARC-County program to better protect farmers from low commodity prices, encourage young and beginning farmers, and bolster rural development in Indian Country.

Our bill overwhelmingly passed 86-11 -- shattering Senate Farm Bill records. For Rep. Cramer’s part, he again endorsed an unrelated political poison pill that sank the House Farm Bill. To get anything done for North Dakota, you have to find consensus between Republicans and Democrats, like I’ve done -- that’s why the Williston Herald advised Rep. Cramer in 2013 to “take a lesson” from me on how to lead. But for him, politics always comes first.

As the conference committee gets to work, the need to compromise and bridge partisan divides can’t be overstated. There’s no room for hyper-partisan efforts to slash crop insurance in half, or eliminate the RFS and sugar program -- like Rep. Cramer’s Republican Study Committee wanted. I’ll keep working across the aisle to strengthen, not cut, these crucial programs.

Protecting lifesaving nutrition programs for farmers and struggling families is critical, especially when 54,000 North Dakotans -- about 73 percent families with children -- rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to make ends meet. Over 1,500 North Dakotans urged me to protect SNAP -- including many faith leaders -- and they’re heard in Senate bill which protects SNAP while making reasonable reforms to combat fraud and ensure recipients who can work are actively looking for a job.

Meanwhile, the House version Rep. Cramer supported would create a burdensome bureaucracy that states are ill-equipped to handle, and could cut assistance to those who need it most. As long as I’m in the Senate, I’ll never back down from protecting SNAP and the coalitions that have kept the Farm Bill bipartisan for years.

While senators like me worked throughout August, Rep. Cramer took a five-week break, so Congress has even less time to pass a final Farm Bill before its end-of-September deadline. When North Dakota farmers are reeling from the trade war Rep. Cramer helped start and still supports, passing a strong Farm Bill is even more vital.

I wake up every day thinking about how I can improve life in rural America. Our farmers and ranchers are the lifeblood of our state’s culture and economy, and they deserve a strong Farm Bill that honors the hard work they put in the field to fuel our economy and feed the world.

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, an Agriculture Committee member, serves on the Farm Bill conference committee. Previously, she served North Dakota as attorney general and tax commissioner. She and her husband Darwin, a Bismarck family physician, have two children – Nathan and Ali.