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Pawlenty says government needs to leave farmers alone

Gov. Tim Pawlenty at FarmFest. Tribune photo by Don Davis

MORGAN -- The federal government is sticking its nose into farmers' business, and hurting Minnesota agriculture in the process, Tim Pawlenty said Thursday after delivering his final FarmFest speech as governor.

If he were in charge of the federal government, the potential presidential candidate said, that would stop.

Pawlenty also said that government should continue to play a role in biofuel development, such as ethanol and biodiesel.

The Republican governor railed against bureaucratic measures that hurt farmers, especially ones by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"I would instruct the EPA to stand down on some of their initiatives that have not been authorized or backed by Congress," he said.

The latest dust-up that he criticized was an EPA proposal in recent days to limit dust, including in farm fields and on rural roads.

Pawlenty called the proposal "silly and ridiculous" and the agency doing it without congressional approval is "very sneaky."

Kevin Papp, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, said that before an agency slaps more regulations on farmers, they should be based on science and the government should consider economic consequences.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., earlier in the week said such proposed rules make him want to find a way to chop the EPA budget in half. He is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Leading governor candidates at another FarmFest forum this week agreed that they cannot accept more farmer regulations.

Pawlenty, who spoke at FarmFest each of his eight years as governor, said that government needs to keep farmers' cost low, and the EPA's proposed rules do the opposite.

Much of Pawlenty's half-hour speech was a review of what his administration has done for agriculture, particularly encouraging the expansion of corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel.

Talking to reporters later, Pawlenty said that as ethanol payments are ending, a decade after they began, direct subsidies to farmers that helped launch the industry no longer are needed.

He said the current ones should continue, to fulfill the state's promise to farmers, but now the government needs to concentrate on things such as funding research.

Federal money helped fund research that led to the nuclear power industry, Pawlenty said, and that is an appropriate use of state and federal money as biofuels enter their next generation.

In fact, the Republican governor and potential presidential candidate said, pilot projects for new biofuels already are operating across the country.

"You are seeing significant progress," he said.

The governor also gave the next governor and Legislature some advice.

"We need to redouble our efforts of marketing Minnesota farm products," said the governor, who later this year heads to Japan to do just that.

"It is a huge opportunity going forward," he added.

Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said countries such as China are emphasizing manufacturing and will need to import more food.

FarmFest, held in a field in southwestern Minnesota, annually attracts thousands of farmers to look over the latest equipment and other agriculture developments.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.