‘Balancing ag and energy’ : Ag commissioner, state senate candidates speak at meet and greet

With energy exploration rampant in western North Dakota, agriculture is quickly becoming replaced by oil as the state’s top commodity.

PHOTOS BY BRYCE MARTIN | PIONEER Candidate for N.D. Agriculutre Commissioner Ryan Taylor speaks to a full room Sept. 29 at Bowman City Hall.
Candidate for N.D. Agriculutre Commissioner Ryan Taylor speaks to a full room Sept. 29 at Bowman City Hall.


N.D. Group Editor

With energy exploration rampant in western North Dakota, agriculture is quickly becoming replaced by oil as the state’s top commodity.

Because of this, one of the more closely watched races in the upcoming Nov. 4 general election is that of North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner, who would also have a seat on the N.D. Industrial Commission.

Ryan Taylor, running on the Democratic-NPL party ticket, stopped at Bowman City Hall on Monday to meet with voters and to share his vision of what’s most important to state farmers and ranchers.

“[We’re] very satisfied with how this race is going right now. We’ve got a really good chance to your representative in that seat for North Dakota,” Taylor said to the crowd that filled city hall’s commission chamber.

Stephanie Pretzer, who briefly addressed the audience before Taylor, said the agriculture commissioner candidate is “phenomenal.”

Pretzer, a democrat, is running for District 39 State Senator against longtime incumbent Bill Bowman. She was sworn into the North Dakota Bar Association last week and currently practices at Mackoff Kellogg in Dickinson.

“I guess you’re probably all wondering, why does this fairly young girl, who’s just beginning her career, want to be a state senator?” Pretzer told the audience. “It’s because I think western North Dakota deserves better representation—people who front the issues and not react to the issues.”

After Pretzer’s short introduction, she lent the stage to Taylor, whom she called “the big show.”

As a fourth generation North Dakotan from Towner, a former state senator and senate minority leader, 44-year-old Taylor is not a newbie to the state’s political arena. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2012, but now maintains his sights on obtaining the highest agricultural position in state government.

Taylor said that, as he traveled the state throughout his campaign, he recognized several areas of importance related to agriculture—rail transportation, issues of landowners and surface owners, the balance of energy and agriculture and, on the larger scale, local implementation of the federal Farm Bill.

The grain car backlog facing the state has put large amounts of stress on farmers during a particularly fruitful harvest this year. Taylor said the best way to mitigate the issue, in the short- and long-term, is to reach across party lines to bring together the energy and agricultural sectors.

“I’m not afraid to work with our partners in energy and say we really need to fill the pipelines,” he said, referring to current pipelines that don’t transport oil to their full capacity and take up more space on railways. “I want to build more pipelines. In the meantime, if we’ve got unused space, I want us to use it.”

It was also mentioned by Taylor that other solutions could be available for the backlog, including processing more of the farmers’ products in North Dakota, feeding more cattle or getting more storage.

“This is going to take time,” he said.

Issues continually discussed around the state stemming from increasing oil recovery are big for state and local governments, but also to the office of the agriculture commissioner, according to Taylor. He said it’s best to locate points of tension between landowners and energy developers and to find ways both sectors would benefit—again, to bring people together.

“We want to do two things: one, get the crop off the top of the ground, while we pull the energy from underneath the ground,” he said.

In an op-ed written by Taylor, he said he entered the race for agriculture commissioner to lead the discussion about balancing agriculture and energy.

“I support oil development for its economic contribution to our state, energy independence for our country and the jobs it provides,” he wrote. “It’s possible, and necessary, to support industry while protecting communities that lie in the path of development.”

Taylor told the crowd he’s a fan of former N.D. Governor Arthur Link, “who taught us and told us how we should reclaim the farmland after the coal’s been harvested.”

The state needs to adopt those same reclamation style requirements, because someday those wells will quit producing and they’ll want to raise that land again, added.

Taylor also called for the need of an agriculture department that is both stable and functional, as he noted trust in such a department is paramount.

With 61 full-time public employees, it is the commissioner’s job to ensure those people are trusted and respected and go to work, ready to work for agriculture, he said.

According to Taylor, in the four years under Agriculture Commissioner Doug Gohering, 43 of the department’s employees left.

“With a 70 percent turnover, I think he makes that job pretty difficult,” Taylor said.

As for the large issue of decreasing workforce facing Main Street, Taylor said it’s important for the state’s future to ensure student loan debt is at a minimum, by offering a one-percent interest rate on student loans. That, he said, would lead to more welders, electricians, technicians and mechanics that North Dakota needs, especially in the southwestern portion of the state.

It would also help in the long-term, as Taylor said less worry about student debt would attract the engineers necessary to create the next generation of technology and energy, and ergonomists and animal scientists that would help maintain another 125 years of agriculture.

“I think it’s an investment in the intellectual infrastructure, the intellectual capital of North Dakota that will build a workforce,” he said.

Taylor was nominated by his party following the June primary elections to face off against incumbent Goehring for one of the most important positions in North Dakota’s government.

With the state’s legacy deeply rooted in farming and ranching, the agriculture commissioner holds a significant role in preserving the land and its yields for current and future generations.

Not only does the commissioner serve as the main voice regarding agriculture issues impacting the state, they also have a seat on the three-person N.D. Industrial Commission—along with the governor and attorney general—which regulates many things across the state including its oil production and recovery.

In an interview with the Pioneer following his remarks to the crowd, Taylor explained that his exit from the senate was due to “gerrymandering” of his district when it came to redistricting in 2012. Gerrymandering is the process of manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class.

“In the redistricting commission, they split my district in two and renumbered it from an odd number to an even number so that I was unable to retain my senate seat while I was running for governor,” he said.

Taylor served District 7 from 2002 to 2012 in the state senate.

Of the available statewide positions, Taylor said he was committed to the run for governor, but realized he went into that contest with low name identification—it was going to be an uphill battle.

Taylor decided he would take his skills as a rancher and his knowledge of agriculture from study and agriculture policy experience in the senate to run against Goehring, who’s up for re-election after his first four-year term expires this year.

As co-sponsor of a Senate bill in 2011 to incentivize more oil refining within the state that would increase the supply of diesel for farmers, Taylor already showed his interest in helping farmers and ranchers.

“This was the most important race that I could make,” he said. “There is a need for my voice for farmers and ranchers.”

The agriculture commissioner has the “bully pulpit” when it comes to the nation’s Farm Bill, which is federal legislation that affects and implements laws pertaining to agriculture.

It is essential to be a vocal advocate and be able to articulate the importance of the Farm Bill, including its crop insurance provisions and livestock indemnity clauses.

“I think you need to speak out … and have a vision for what that provides to North Dakota,” he said.

Balancing energy development and agriculture is a significant job that Taylor said he is ready to take on, to advocate that people need to be stewards of the two predominant sectors that shape North Dakota.

“We need to remember who brought us to the dance and that was agriculture. It’s in our blood. It’s 125 years of our culture,” he said. “While we’ll have a lot of support and robust energy development for 30 or 40 years, when that’s done, agriculture will still be here.”

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2 thoughts on “‘Balancing ag and energy’ : Ag commissioner, state senate candidates speak at meet and greet

  1. The people who might be sitting on the NDIC should be answering questions about the explosive Bakken oil trains.

    It’s not a secret: Bakken oil trains from North Dakota can be rendered NON-explosive, through a process called “Stabilization” The ND Industrial Commission has complete authority to mandate it.

    The projected casualty figure for a Bakken oil train derailment & explosion in Bismarck, or Fargo, is 60. Are we waiting to find out?

    Maybe, massive explosions aren’t as unpopular as I assumed.

    Ron Schalow
    Fargo, North Dakota
    The Coalition for Bakken Crude Oil Stabilization

  2. Ryan Taylor is as honest and earnest as the North Dakota summer day is long……He is capable of thoughtful yet hard decisions with only the best interests for the actual people of North Dakota at heart. A real leader in times when we need a strong one.

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