By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent
PHILADELPHIA (DTN) -- Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and other Democratic officeholders from rural areas said at the Democratic National Convention here that rural America needs Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump as president.
At a meeting of the Democratic National Committee Rural Council, Tester said, "If you think for a moment that Donald Trump knows how deep to plant a wheat seed or a corn kernel or what it takes to raise a crop, you are seeing a different man than I am. This man is totally out of touch with ordinary Americans. Hillary Clinton is different."
Tester also noted that there were "Bernie folks" at the event, and said that Clinton challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is "a class act."
Tester noted that it was a Democratic president -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- who started the modern farm programs.
"I am a Democrat -- because of FDR," he said. "My grandfather would have lost the farm if it wasn't for the Democrats. History is cyclical. If we do not have good leadership in the White House, visionary leadership in the White House" and people in the House and Senate who understand family farming, he said, "we are screwed."
"We need a farm program for people in production agriculture," Tester said. "It is a tough job to design it. If we get competition in the marketplace, it will work."
Tester said his grandfather moved from the Red River Valley along the North Dakota-Minnesota border to Montana 100 years ago. Tester said he could still raise wheat where buffalo once roamed, but he got tired of taking the price offered and converted to organic farming some years ago.
Today his farm does better, Tester said, but land-grant colleges should conduct more research on organics.
"You cannot do trial and error on your own farm. Land grants have to do it," he said.
Tester also said the government needs to invest in rural schools because one reason young, college-educated people don't come back to the farm is that they worry about opportunities for their own children.
He said most of his colleagues think that being a senator is the best job in the world, but he believes "the best job I ever had is being farmer."
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said, "It bothers all of us to hear the immigrant-bashing that has been taking place."
Costa noted that his own grandparents came from Portugal's Azores Islands and did not speak English. Three of his grandparents were illiterate "their entire lives," Costa said.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., told the rural Democrats that "The Democratic Party has and always will fight for rural America," Politico said.
As a result, rural Americans "need to be on the front lines of telling the story of Democrats and why Secretary Clinton is the best choice," she added.
"We cannot lose rural America [by 90%] and win the presidency," Heitkamp added. "Rural America makes a difference in this election. It's not just that big, red square in the middle of this country."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack then spoke to a crowd of several hundred agricultural lobbyists, some of them Republican, and Obama administration political appointees at the "Kick Up Your Heels with Ag" reception at the Union League Club in downtown Philadelphia. If elected, Clinton would listen to their concerns, Vilsack said.
"Hillary ... she listens. Donald Trump only listens to himself," Vilsack. "When Hillary was in upstate New York, she listened," Vilsack added. "She is a problem solver."
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, who was master of ceremonies at the event, praised Vilsack's work over the past seven-plus years, calling Vilsack, the best Agriculture secretary "in my lifetime."
Though passed over for Clinton's running mate, Vilsack showed his continued support and prominence in the campaign Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention as he was seated next to former President Bill Clinton throughout the evening's speeches.
Speaking to the Democratic ag leaders, Vilsack also addressed immigration. "Everyone knows we have a broken immigration system," he said. "That is a problem."
Clinton favors the Renewable Fuel Standard, he said. "You can't trust Donald Trump on the RFS," Vilsack said.
Vilsack also told the reception attendees that the reasons for voting against Trump are much bigger than agriculture.
"This election is the most important in my lifetime," Vilsack said, adding that he considers the choice "stark," partly because Trump "believes it is OK to bring torture back."
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