Jim Krueger, president and CEO of Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services, describes to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar some of the U.S. Department of Agriculture loan programs the cooperative has done in partnership with USDA to assist businesses. Klobuchar visited the cooperative Tuesday morning. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

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Klobuchar: Senate’s farm bill will get through

Published 12:00pm Tuesday, January 8, 2013

There is a good likelihood that Congress will pass a farm bill in coming months, said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Tuesday during a stop in Albert Lea.

At Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services, the senior senator from Minnesota heard from local economic development officials about local issues that need federal attention.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar shakes hands Tuesday with Dan Dorman, executive director of the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency and former District 27A state representative. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Of course, the farm bill was up there.

“Now, it’s going to be a big fight,” she said.

Klobuchar said the new Senate has many of the same faces and likely can pass the same measure it did with bipartisan support last summer. Sixty-eight out of 100 senators voted in favor. She said the measure saves $23 billion over 10 years and preserves rural development initiatives, strengthens crop insurance and maintains dairy programs.

However, getting it through the House of Representatives will be tricky. She said she believes it will pass.

“Our advantage is cost-reduction,” she said.

The farm bill isn’t just about farms. It’s about America’s rural economy. Congress generally passes a new one every five years, and the legislation regulates areas ranging from school nutrition to forestry and from agriculture to wildlife habitat. The Senate in June passed a farm bill, but in the House the measure couldn’t get to the floor for a vote. Instead, Congress on Jan. 1 extended the existing farm legislation for nine months, kicking the can down the road. While the extension maintains crop subsidies and dairy regulations, it leaves some programs, such as energy titles, with limited or no means. Most importantly, it leaves farmers, bank loan officers and anyone in agribusiness uncertain about what’s coming for the 2013 growing season.

After the House’s failure to pass the farm bill, some pundits stated rural American was losing clout, saying lobbyists couldn’t get the issue to the forefront.

Klobuchar disagreed. She said the measure wouldn’t have passed with more than two-thirds of support in the U.S. Senate if rural America lacked clout. She noted the farm bill passed by the Senate has support from the American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union.

 

Collaboration

The local officials in attendance pointed out how Albert Lea entities work well together and, unlike in some communities, generally don’t battle with each other over credit for work.

Improving quality of life in a rural community, said Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen, is the challenge.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar listens to the concerns of local officials Tuesday during a meeting at Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services. Next to her is Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

“Quality of life is what growth is about,” he said.

He said the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce stepped up last year to oppose state cuts to local government aid, which would have reduced city services. He said the chamber did that despite being called out by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which had the opposite, more suburban view on the matter.

He said most entities with economic development roles understand the growth predominantly comes from within the community and cited an expansion project at Mrs. Gerry’s Kitchen.

The mayor also pointed out how Albert Lea has lost many recent opportunities from outside companies because Minnesota border communities have a hard time competing with Iowa.

Rasmussen and Kehr, the executive director of the local chamber, praised how Albert Lea entities collaborate.

“We all understand the community is bigger than the politics of the world,” Rasmussen said.

A representative from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development agreed, saying Albert Lea, unlike many towns, doesn’t bicker over credit or which agency gets to lead on a project.

“This community is my favorite to work with,” said Kevin Kelleher of the southeast regional office of DEED’s Office of Business Development.

He said he has been working on a $110 million project in southeast Minnesota, where community leaders seemed more focused on which entity will be the leader than on the project itself.

Jim Krueger, CEO of Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services, described how the cooperative has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s loan programs and local entities to grow the area it serves. He said the cooperative has been around for 75 years and in its location on East Main Street for 60 years. He said anything the cooperative can do to spur growth helps keep rates down for users of the electricity the cooperative sells. He said the I-35 corridor is especially appealing.

“We really see this area out here as a prime opportunity for growth,” Krueger said.

The ability to collaborate, they local officials agreed, makes federal dollars spent in the Albert Lea area more effective.

 

Wastewater treatment plant

State and federal regulations often treat wastewater treatment plants as though they have limited capacity and cities must adhere to rules that punish heavy users. However, Albert Lea has the opposite problem. The wastewater treatment plant has abundant capacity, and Rasmussen, Dorman, Kehr and other local officials have sought to get regulators to understand the situation. They want incentives for heavy users, which often are food plants. They see the treatment plant’s capacity as a means to attracting jobs, and changes in state and federal approaches to cities with abundant capacity could be good economically for Albert Lea.

Dorman said ALEDA and city officials run into road blocks in the form of “yeah, but.” For example, the state might want to revisit a regulation but there is a federal regulation that stands in the way.

Rasmussen said they have worked for a year and half on getting rules changed.

Klobuchar said she intends to have her staff speak with the right people at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We need to look at the facts, not just what the rules are,” she said.

Klobuchar headed to Mankato, St. Peter and Gaylord later Tuesday.