REDWOOD FALLS - U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., defended her tenure and the Senate's version of the Farm Bill on Wednesday at FarmFest near Redwood Falls, saying she would not have voted for the smaller farmer assistance bill the House tried to pass.
Klobuchar participated in a panel with opponents Kurt Bills, a Republican, and Glen Menze, an independent, before an audience of farmers besieged by drought and high feed costs.
The 2012 Farm Bill was a major issue among the candidates.
Bills, a high school economics teacher and state lawmaker, said the Senate version of the Farm Bill is too expensive, calling it, as others have, a food stamp bill with an agriculture rider.
Menze, a farmer himself, said it doesn't matter to him which party passes a bill as long as one gets passed.
"The two parties are acting more and more like a divorced couple - and we are their kids," he said. "For farmers, it doesn't matter which party is holding it up. Farmers need direction as to where things go in order to do the planning you need to do in farming. We do need a farm bill simply because there are two things we can't do without - food and water."
Bills continued to make the case for smaller government, contending that the renewable fuel standard should be phased out while crop insurance should only be available to small farms.
Klobuchar disagreed, saying crop insurance is vital to farmers.
"We cannot afford to go down on crop insurance," she said. "It is the key for commodity farmers. Farmers livelihoods can be taken away in the blink of any eye."
The conversation was mostly civil, although Bills took a few jabs a Klobuchar.
In a discussion about the fuel standard and subsidies to oil companies, Klobuchar said she believes America should focus on growing the Midwest biofuels market instead of investing in the oil cartels of the Mideast.
Bills responded: "I think we need a Keystone Pipeline."
Klobuchar voted earlier this year to delay construction of the pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada down to Texas refineries.
Menze argued that a U.S. senator needs to understand agriculture because the practice of changing the laws every year hurts farmers, who plan five years out.
He argued that instead of penalizing farmers who go against regulations, the federal government should offer incentives to foster changes.
While Menze and Klobuchar emphasized their ability to work with others to get things done, Bills took a tougher approach.
"We can't be everything to everyone," he said. "I wish I could be the guy who could give everything to everyone. ... You are going to end up not have enough to fill your need."
The FarmFest crowd was polite, occasionally responding to the candidates with light applause.