GILFILLAN ESTATE - With a debt ceiling deal reached in Washington, national legislators are coming back to Minnesota. U.S. Sen. Al Franken was present at Farmfest on Wednesday, speaking at the main forum tent and meeting with members of the public. However, questions from audience members at the forum tended to center more around topics like ethanol subsidies and the next Farm Bill.
Franken gave an update on his involvement with agriculture-related issues in Congress. Agriculture is a key part of Minnesota's economy and traditions, Franken said. "I know that in representing Minnesota, a large part of my job is representing you," he told audience members.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Franken said he supported the development of renewable energy including wind energy and ethanol, especially cellulosic ethanol. While Franken said he didn't think corn ethanol will disappear from the industry, he said cellulosic ethanol would be the next big step. Cellulosic ethanol can be made from cornstalks, grass and other plant material, and wouldn't compete with food markets.
Photo by Deb Gau
U.S. Sen. Al Franken makes a point during his talk on his involvement with agricultural issues in Congress at Farmfest Wednesday afternoon.
He was asked questions about ethanol subsidies and the next Farm Bill.
"It will be very good for American energy independence," Franken said.
Franken said the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit could help establish the infrastructure to put cellulosic ethanol in more gas tanks.
"We need those blender pumps in order to make ethanol competitive," he said. However, a deal involving the VEETC did not go through this year. "There were several votes, and none of them became law."
Rail transportation was another area where Franken said he supported the interests of Minnesota agriculture. Earlier this summer, Franken spoke out against uncompetitive practices in the railway industry.
"I testified to the Surface Transportation Board, and made the case that we need competition when it comes to railroads," Franken said. Without good rail access and competition, it's not possible for many Minnesota farmers to ship their products.
Franken said he was undecided on the issue of international trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama, "But I want you to be able to get your products to market, and that means internationally."
In response to an audience question, Franken said he didn't have much information on the upcoming Farm Bill.
"The best I can give you is that we hope we can get it done in 2012," Franken said.
Although Rep. Collin Peterson is no longer the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Franken said he will remain a valuable resource to legislators working on the bill. Franken also cautioned that given the current budget climate, Congress will probably be looking for cuts to the bill, likely in areas like counter-cyclical payments.