On ag tour, Daines hears farmers' concerns in Huntley

2014-08-04T18:45:00Z 2014-08-19T17:11:08Z On ag tour, Daines hears farmers' concerns in HuntleyBy ERIK OLSON eolson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Frustrated farmers told Congressman Steve Daines on Monday in Huntley that clogged rail lines, increasing federal regulations and cheap imports are hurting their business.

Panelists at the Yellowstone Valley Electric Co-op said they’ve watched their grain get pushed off the tracks by the massive boom of oil trains from the Bakken oil fields.

“I realize energy is an important issue for us, but we’ve got a lot of important products to move now. And agricultural products are way below energy products right now” on the railroad’s priority list, said Wade Malchow, manager of the MillerCoors barley elevator in Huntley.

Daines is meeting agriculture leaders and touring Montana facilities during Congress’s traditional August break. He also plans to make appearances in Billings on Tuesday.

Daines, a Republican, is challenging Democratic Sen. John Walsh for his seat in November. Daines is leading in the polls, while Walsh’s campaign is reeling from allegations he plagiarized work while studying at the Army War College.

At the Huntley gathering, panelists said they’re worried the Environmental Protection Agency will increase buffers on rivers and streams and protections of habitat land for endangered species and end up hurting farming.

Daines said laws like the 40-year-old Endangered Species Act were good policies with unintended consequences.

“It’s like an old ranch pickup. It once served a purpose, but it needs repair,” Daines said.

Other panelists noted that farming costs and competition are increasing. After taking a hit, sugar prices are rebounding, but Montana farmers are struggling to compete with low-cost Mexican imports, grower Cody Kuntz said.

Daines deflected campaign-related questions from the panel, saying he couldn’t address the race during an official congressional meeting.

Asked after the meeting, Daines declined to address the plagiarism scandal in detail: “That’s between Sen. Walsh and the people of Montana.”

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