In 2018, during an open election after Tim Walz opted to run for governor instead of a seventh term in in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Jim Hagedorn flipped Minnesota’s First District, edging Democrat Dan Feehan by about 1,300 votes, a .4 percent margin.
The two are squaring off again for the House seat, this time with Hagedorn as an incumbent who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, an assignment Feehan says he would also seek out if he were to win the seat.
During a virtual Farmfest candidate forum, the two offered their stances on trade, biofuels, rural broadband and health care, among other issues. But, of course, the coronavirus pandemic was the looming issue, one that touched all topics.
“If we had this forum in person or six months ago at the beginning of the year … we would be talking about how farmers were optimistic again,” said Hagedorn, a Blue Earth native. “The trade deals were going through, prices were up, our dairy farmers were making money and they were turning the corner. Unfortunately, the coronavirus hit and threw a wrench into the whole darn thing.”
Feehan criticized President Trump’s trade policies as ‘’disastrous” to farmers.
“That’s part of the reason we’re in the situation right now,” the North Mankato resident said. “In Congress, I will stand up to any president, Republican or Democrat, that’s going to recklessly put our economy and way of life at risk with chaotic, scattershot trade policy like we’ve got right now.”
Hagedorn said he’s seeking more money for farmers in the next coronavirus relief package, which has stalled for weeks in Congress. Hagedorn said he would seek aid for livestock farmers who had to euthanize hogs when packing plants decreased production and were shuttered.
“(They’re) in a bad spot through no fault of their own,” he said. “We have to get them through this. We can’t lose our farmers. If our independent operators go out of existence it will be a direct threat to our food supply and our way of life.”
Feehan, an Army vet, said the solution can’t just be relief funds.
“Livestock producers want to be paid in the marketplace, not the mailbox,” he said, adding that antitrust laws need to be enforced in the packing industry.
“We also have to look at building resilience into our system … taking precautions on the front end and preparing on the back end so that our livestock and our farmers and our producers are never put in the same position again, Feehan said.
On biofuels, Hagedorn, who supported the biodiesel tax credit extension, said it’s a bipartisan issue and has called for the standards to be implemented the way Congress intended. Feehan agreed that agriculture is not a partisan issue but, rather, a regional one, and biofuels have to be part of solutions when it comes to climate change.
“Any discussion of fuel standards, discussion of carbon emissions, has to have a seat at the table for our biofuels industry,” he said.
In the 2017 Agriculture Census, the First District ranked 10th in total agriculture, 11th in total crops and eighth in grains, oilseeds, dry beans and dry peas. The First District has 18,000 farms supporting nearly 30,000 growers. The district’s total market value of products sold is $6.5 billion.