Tester family farm gets centennial award

Great Falls Tribune

by Peter Johnson

Urges GOP to pass Senate bill that will cut $23 billion

After accepting a Montana Farmers Union’s Centennial Award for his family’s 100 years of farming near Big Sandy, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester challenged Republicans to approve the Senate farm bill version he said would cut spending by $23 billion over the next 10 years compared to the current bill.

Tester spoke at noon Friday to the Farmers Union convention at the Great Falls Heritage Inn.

He said he was proud of his grandparents, Fred and Christine Pearson, who left North Dakota’s fertile Red River Valley to farm in Montana 1912, where rain spurred grain to grow as tall as a horse initially. They later encountered strong winds that blew down a barn and drought that briefly forced them back to North Dakota. As good land managers they survived and passed the land on to his parents, Dave and Helen Tester, the senator said, who passed them on to him and his wife, Shar, in the mid-1980s.

They became organic farmers to add value to their crop and successfully run a small operation, Tester said.

Turning to politics, Tester, a Democrat, called the past three weeks in Washington a sign of a dysfunctional government. The partial government shutdown was bad enough for many folks directly affected, he said, but failing to extend the debt limit could have caused even worse economic problems than the 2008 recession and maybe as bad as the 1930s recession.

He said some of the irresponsible actions were led by people either running for president or having wrong agendas for the country.

Everybody wants to reduce the budget deficit, “but it didn’t happen yesterday,” and will take time to reduce, he said.

Republicans could help save $23 billion over 10 years by approving the Senate farm bill, Tester said. It would eliminate direct payments, firm up crop insurance programs, consolidate conservation programs and cut $4 billion in food stamp supports. He chided the Republican House version for cutting too much – $40 billion in food stamp revenue. The House bill also splits food stamps and commodity supports into two laws, and Tester said it makes sense to keep them together to build support for a farm bill from different groups.

Later, Montana state Agriculture Director Ron de Yong urged the farm group to support higher fees or more legislative flexibility to help the department deal with reduced revenue for three key programs.

Changes at the federal and state level have reduced money supporting:

» A statewide weed control coordination program.

» Another to watch for insects and diseases that can “hitchhike” on nursery trees and shrubs imported into the state.

» The export certification program under which state workers research rules Montana producers need to follow to export goods to another countries and inspections.