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Farm groups differ sharply on climate legislation

WILLMAR -- Farm groups differ sharply in their approach to climate change legislation, and whether they should even be engaged in its development, according to speakers at the recent Minnesota Agriculture, Climate and Energy Forum at Ridgewater College in Willmar.

Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, told attendees that agriculture needs to have a seat at the table in the debate.

He believes that farmers could realize new revenues and gain economic opportunities if the right sort of legislation is crafted.

He is also convinced that some type of legislation is inevitable. He likened the move toward climate change legislation to efforts for clean indoor air and curbs on the tobacco industry. It was resisted strongly at first, but today there are no public places clouded by tobacco smoke.

The Farm Bureau and other groups are opposed to climate legislation, and reluctant or unwilling to become involved in discussions on it, according to Chris Clayton, ag policy director with the Progressive Farmer.

He said opponents prefer to "kick the can down the road.'' They believe that President Barack Obama will be a one-term president. Calls for climate change legislation or even Environmental Protection Agency-imposed mandates will go away with the election of a new president, they argue.

State Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, believes farm groups should be engaged in shaping climate change legislation, and that there is urgency in doing so. The census now under way will lead to a loss of rural seats in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress with redistricting in 2012.

"We need our voices heard in the next couple of years,'' said Juhnke.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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