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Capitol Chatter: Lights, cameras, silence (from politicians)

U.S. Reps. Tim Walz, left, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota talk Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, during a U.S. House Agriculture Committee listeniing session at Farmfest. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 9
Eleven U.S. House members gather at Farmfest Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, to listen to farmers' ideas about what should be in the next federal farm bill. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 9
U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota listens to testimony to the U.S. House Agriculture Committee Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, at Farmfest in southwestern Minnesota. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 9
U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota listens to testimony about the fedeal farm bill Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, at farmfest in southwestern Minnesota. Don Davis / Forum News Service4 / 9
Robert Green, chairman of American Crystal Sugar Co., tells the U.S. House Agriculture Committee Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, that Congress needs to keep in mind the needs of the surgar industry as it crafts new farm legislation. The meeting was at Farmfest in southwestern Minnesota. Don Davis / Forum News Service5 / 9
U.S. Rep, Collin Peterson of Minnesota talks to a Farmfest visitor before a U.S. House Agriculture Committee listening session Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017. Don Davis / Forum News Service6 / 9
U.S. Reps. Rick Nolan, left, and Tim Walz of Minnesota talk Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, during a U.S. House Agriculture Committee listeniing session at Farmfest. Don Davis / Forum News Service7 / 9
Travis Keister of Minn-Iowa Crop Insurance Service testifies in front of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee at Farmfest Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, saying farmers are seeing the biggest decrease in revenues in several years. Don Davis / Forum News Service8 / 9
Minnesota FFA President: Katie Benson talks to the U.S. House Agriculture Committee Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, at Farmfest. She said she would like to see Congress fund a young farmer coordinator. Don Davis / Forum News Service9 / 9

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn.—They do not often bring in television lights for a Farmfest forum.

But that is not the only unusual thing about a forum on the last day of the southwest Minnesota agriculture event: Eleven U.S. representatives featured at the forum gave brief opening remarks and then shut up (well, except for some chatting among themselves). Some testifiers appeared surprised that the congressmen actually were listening to them.

To add to the unusual atmosphere, it was 61 degrees, unheard-of cold for Farmfest.

After hearing about cotton and peanuts at a Texas hearing earlier in the week, the U.S.House Agriculture Committee listened to Minnesota ag concerns Thursday, Aug. 3. Members heard from about 50 people, at less than two minutes per person, leaving about 20 people who could not testify after time ran out.

The Farmfest forum building was packed with hundreds interested in the farm bill, which House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, wants to pass late this year or early next year. Federal laws have deep impacts on farm life, especially after a disaster.

As expected, Minnesota was well represented at the committee table with Reps. Collin Peterson, Tim Walz, Tom Emmer and Rick Nolan. North Dakota's lone congressman, Kevin Cramer was there, as was South Dakota's Kristi Noem.

Others came from Kansas, Illinois, Iowa and Pennsylvania.

New biodiesel standard

Gov. Mark Dayton planned to announce a new biodiesel standard at Farmfest, but illness kept him home.

Minnesota will require 20 percent biofuel, such as soybean oil, to be blended with diesel to be sold at pumps around the state. That is an increase from the 2 percent requirement established in 2005.

"Minnesota has long been a national leader in adding value to our farm products and encouraging renewable energy," Dayton said in a statement. "The biodiesel industry will add an average of 63 cents to the market price of a bushel of soybeans for Minnesota farmers" while reducing pollution.

The fuel will be for sale beginning next May. In future years, it will be available April through September, with lower biofuel content sold the rest of the year to prevent gelling that sometimes happens in cold weather.

Forget Cuba, for now

Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson gave no hope to Farmfest visitors that they soon will be able to sell products to Cuba.

Sales will not happen, he said he learned on a recent Cuba trip; "until the federal government is willing to lift the blockade, as they call it." the American government calls the action sanctions.

"There doesn't seem to be interest on the part of the Congress to do that," the commissioner added.

Cubans know U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep.Tom Emmer, Minnesota lawmakers who have worked to open up Cuba for American trade, Frederickson said.

Go drive combine

Voters sometimes want to tell governor candidates where to go, but the Minnesota Corn Growers Association has its own idea: Go drive a combine.

The corn group is inviting all governor candidates to drive a combine during this fall's harvest.

"Minnesota corn farmers look forward to hosting all gubernatorial candidates, regardless of political persuasion, on a farm to help share how growers are working to raise high quality crops while caring for our state's natural resources," association President Harold Wolle said.

On thing the candidates will learn is that many modern combines need little "driving." With global positioning system and other technical equipment inside the cab, many combines practically drive themselves.

Tagging the invaders

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has tagged its first invasive carp, the beginning of learning about how they travel through the state's waters.

DNR officials tagged a bighead carp, which will be tracked to provide data that now is not known.

"This new tool is another proactive step Minnesota is taking to prevent the spread of invasive species," DNR invasive fish coordinator Nick Frohnauer said. "The more we can learn about these species, the more effectively we can continue to minimize their potential impact, with the help of Minnesotans who use rivers for business or recreation."

The bighead was 37 pounds and 43 inches long. It was caught in the St. Croix River, surgically implanted with a thin, four-inch long tracking tag and returned to the river.

"It's important and legally required, as always, that anyone who catches a bighead, grass or silver carp in Minnesota contact the DNR immediately," Frohnauer said. "Invasive carp are rare in Minnesota, with typically just a few individual fish reported in the state each year. We can keep it that way with the public's help, more research and continued vigilance."

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.