When Farmfest rolls around on Aug. 2, it’s either going to have some big holes in its lineup of political guests or it’s going to offer southern Minnesota farmers a great chance to quiz elected officials about the major budget battles under way in Washington, D.C., and St. Paul.

The three-day agricultural exposition south of Redwood Falls opens on Aug. 2 — the same day the U.S. Treasury estimates it won’t be able to pay all of the federal government’s bills if President Obama and congressional leaders can’t reach a deal on raising the debt ceiling.

On Aug. 4 Farmfest will wrap up with Gov. Mark Dayton tentatively slated as the keynote speaker.

Dayton’s staff told Kent Thiesse of Lake Crystal, who coordinates the Farmfest forums, that the governor wants to be there. But the governor can’t guarantee it because no one knows if the state government shutdown that began July 1 will be settled by then.

“I don’t expect to get confirmation from Gov. Dayton until this whole thing with the shutdown gets resolved — if it gets resolved by Farmfest,” said Thiesse, who has a history of attracting Minnesota’s top politicians to the state’s largest agricultural exposition.

Because of the impasse at the federal level between Obama and Republican leaders in Congress, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Congressman Tim Walz and Congressman Collin Peterson can’t promise they’ll be able to make the Aug. 2 forum they headline.

None of the forums specifically address the historic budget disputes at the state and national levels, but Thiesse said he always leaves about half of each forum for interaction with the audience. And he has little doubt that farmers will be asking questions about those fiscal fights.

The 2011 lineup begins at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 2 with Klobuchar, Walz and Peterson — joined by state presidents of the Farmers Union and Farm Bureau and by an ag policy analyst — talking about the next federal farm bill.

At 1:15 p.m. the same day is a forum titled “Regulation — The Biggest Threat to Production Agriculture?” Representatives of pork, cattle and corn producers are on the panel, along with people associated with state agencies.

At 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 3, a six-member panel will discuss the sometimes conflicting messages the public hears from agricultural organizations. The 1:15 p.m. forum includes a slate of state agency officials — from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to the Department of Natural Resources — to talk about “Designing State Agencies to Enhance the Agricultural Industry.”

The morning forum on Aug. 4 will focus on the declining financial support for agricultural research at public universities, with the afternoon event dedicated to recognizing top farm families in counties across the state.

Even if the current elected officials are busy in St. Paul or Washington, Farmfest attendees may be able to coax some former elected officials to critique their successors. Scattered across the forums are former state lawmakers Doug Peterson (now the state Farmers Union president), Brad Finstad (now of the Rural Policy Center), Dennis Frederickson (now of the DNR) and Dave Frederickson (now the state ag commissioner).

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