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Peterson tours Bemidji projects

Jeanine Gangeness, associate professor of nursing at Bemidji State, shows U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson a high-tech manikin used by nursing students -- a unit that costs $30,000 to $50,000 that talks and allows intravenous testing. The Memorial Hall-housed department was one of several stops Peterson made in Bemidji on Monday. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

Beltrami County farmers show little interest in a new crop subsidy program, but may embrace new changes in a farm storage facility loan program.

Local interest in the new Average Crop Revenue Election -- ACRE -- program was one of several questions U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, asked Monday while visiting local Farm Service Agency officials in Bemidji.

It was one of several stops Peterson made in Bemidji, with Mayor Richard Lehmann and Community Development Director Rita Albrecht before having lunch with several Bemidji City Council members.

ACRE, part of the 2008 Farm Bill, is an alternative revenue-based safety net to the price-based safety net provided by counter-cyclical payments for crop years 2009-2012. The program provides producers an option to protect against declines in market revenue.

"We're not seeing a lot of use for ACRE," Beltrami County FSA Director Rodney Holen told Peterson. "There's mostly beef and livestock here."

The sign-up deadline for ACRE this year was Friday, and Peterson hoped that farmers with an interest in the program did sign up.

"It's a complicated program," said the chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, "but it averages over three years. If you don't have the first year locked up, it won't work. If you're going to use the program, that's the best way to do it."

But Holen said there should be local interest in a new U.S. Department of Agriculture announcement Monday that changes have been implemented to the Farm Storage Facility Loan Program which will allow producers of eligible commodities to obtain low-interest financing to build or upgrade farm storage and handling facilities.

"We have a lot of haying here, and there should be some interest for storage there," Holen said.

Peterson said he operates a small farm in the Thief River Falls area, about 27 base acres. "It's not a big deal, it's mostly deer-hunting land and farming is incidental." He has a brother in the area, and son teaches at Bagley.

He added that as chairman of the Ag Committee, he has lunch weekly with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa.

"He's learning," Peterson said, praising the secretary's current rural tour across the nation. Getting out in the field is necessary, he said, adding that after Bemidji on Monday, he would be in Colorado on Tuesday, New York at the end of the month, and was in Tennessee last week.

"That's how you find out agriculture is very different in different parts of the country," Peterson said.

He called FSA workers "the front line," and thanked them for their work.

Peterson also met with staff at Bemidji State University's Nursing Department, a new four-year program housed in the basement of Memorial Hall.

Peterson aided efforts in securing funding for the program, which has strong ties to a two-year program at Northland Community College in Thief River Falls and to Northwest Technical College. Some 270 students are involved.

Associate Professor Jeanine Gangeness showed Peterson various study areas of the facility, including a manikin that is able to talk to student nurses and allow intravenous injections. The high-tech dummy costs between $30,000 and $50,000, she said.

Areas offer training both in a clinic setting and a hospital setting, and one area allows a home setting.

The program will help fill a nursing shortage, Peterson said, but lawmakers are still concerned about a family physician shortage, which he said isn't addressed so far in proposed health care reform bills.

Peterson also toured the expansion of the Bemidji Industrial Park, a $3 million project to extend sewer and water to an eventual manufacturing site, Albrecht said. Federal Economic Development Administration funds of $1.6 million aided the project.

County Road 404 provides 10-ton access to the 40-acre addition, she said, which is now leased by Enbridge Energy Inc. as a staging area for its major pipeline project, with Bemidji handling crews for the pipeline from Clearbrook to Deer River.

"That's jobs and an improved economy for our area," Lehmann told Peterson. "Bemidji is becoming a center, and we're being looked at as an economic center that can support this kind of stuff."

Lehmann also had Peterson tour the construction zone of the Bemidji Regional Event Center.

The Democrat from Detroit Lakes also visited with officials at the BSU-operated Center for Research and Innovation and the Small Business Administration housed within. SBA is offering several business loan programs through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

CRI aids about 2,500 people a year, with training in the building, on job site or online, said Anthony Schaffhauser, CRI executive director.