FARGO – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp quietly took the stage at the Big Iron Farm Show Tuesday morning, first moving a large poster away from gathering eyes.
“Congressman Cramer (declined to participate),” the sign read.
She made no mention of why Kevin Cramer keeps refusing to debate her on the issues during this year’s race for the U.S. Senate, a seat she currently holds. Five times so far, Cramer has refused to debate, even as the country, and especially North Dakota, stand on the brink of another farming crisis because of President Donald Trump Administration’s trade war.
Cramer declined the Red River Farm Network invitation to speak at the agricultural forum because he had a high-dollar fundraiser in Dallas, Texas on Monday. U.S. Senator and Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas arranged the fundraiser, which ran $1,000 to $50,000 per person.
Cornyn, like Cramer, is supported heavily by the oil and gas industry, with so far this year raising $90,150 from Energy Transfer Equity, an affiliate of Energy Transfer Partners the parent company of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, according to Open Secrets Center for Responsive Politics.
Cornyn is also listed as the representative for the Republican Alamo PAC, which so far donated $5,000 to Cramer this year. The high-dollar luncheon fundraiser came a week after President Donald Trump flew into Fargo to help Cramer raise money. Cramer falls far behind Heitkamp in fundraising this year, having solicited $3.2 million against Heitkamp’s $10.8 million.
While Cramer, who has been called out on his support of the current trade war with China, Canada, Mexico, and Europe, was away in Texas, Heitkamp predicted a bitter future for North Dakota farmers before more than 50 concerned farmers.
“This is the eleventh week,” Heitkamp said. “Why do I say that? Because this is the eleventh week where there’s been absolutely no orders for soybeans into the Pacific Northwest. That is two-thirds of the North Dakota market.”
Historically, two out of every three rows of North Dakota soybeans went to the Asian market, Heitkamp said.
“This has become a big issue in agriculture, the question is: How much patience do you have? Can you wait until next year and if it’s not resolved by then can you wait until the next year? Do you wonder why the problem is not intellectual property? Why it’s not Apple that is getting hit, why are farmers?
“Why are we so complacent about the collateral damage in a trade war? And at the end of the day how many of you think if we do a deal with China we’re actually going to improve the market for soybeans in North Dakota?
“So the problem that I have is that we have so-called ‘short term pain’ in trade. You know what? There’s no such thing as short-term pain in trade. We’re losing markets, we’re losing markets at a rate that is dizzying.”
China has already said they can live without American soybeans, Heitkamp said. Under orders by the Central Government the agricultural sector may shift gears into sunflowers, rapeseed and other products.
“This trade disruption is real,” Heitkamp said. “This short-term pain is not an accurate way to portray what is happening right now because there is a potential after millions and millions of dollars have been spent to develop the Asian market, the Chinese market, that market is gone to us.”
Heitkamp likened the future of agriculture in the state to the 1980s farming crisis, where those involved in agriculture were fighting more against inclement weather than politics.
Although crop insurance programs are now available when farmers experience bad weather, there is only a $12 billion Band-Aid that came in the form of an aid package to help farmers through the trade war this year.
“People accuse me of being unpatriotic, disloyal but I call it how I see it,” Heitkamp said. “And the way I see it is that this is going to have long-term ramifications that are going to affect agriculture in North Dakota for a long time. The time to speak up is now; it’s not to wait until next year. The time to say this is not right is now.
“So, my job apparently is chief bitch-er,” Heikamp said. “I’m the chief bitch-er, I’m bitching about trade and I’m bitching about the aid package and I’m bitching about people being collateral damage in North Dakota.”
Heitkamp then said the trade war will only continue to hurt farmers, one day soon creating a real crisis.
“We are now on the brink of a crisis in farm country that is completely policy driven,” Heitkamp said. “Think about that. The economic crisis that we’re going to experience in farm country is being driven by policy, it’s not being driven by weather, it’s not being driven by bad farmers, you’re the best farmers in the world.
“Why is it we are struggling? We’re struggling because of bad policy.”
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