Seems kind of odd that this summer's annual Dakotafest, which bills itself as "The Northern Plains' Premier Ag Event," won't be hosting debates between South Dakota's U.S. representatives and challengers this year.

The event has had a tradition of providing event-goers and television viewers around the state with a venue that focuses on agricultural issues, which of course are the mainstays of South Dakota's rural economy.

In 2014, Sen. Rounds debated his two opponents and Rep. Noem debated hers at the event. I was looking forward to a similar match-up this year but just learned that there are no plans to hold debates, just a roundtable discussion involving our three Republican congressional reps, Sens. Thune and Rounds and Rep. Noem.

Apparently "The Northern Plains' Premier Ag Event" doesn't deem a brisk political dialogue between opposing U.S. representatives a worthy feature of its schedule this year.

How they come about this decision is the business of event planners, but given that this election cycle will focus on trade policies that are ultra-important to South Dakota's ag producers, it mystifies me as to why a debate between candidates is being shunted aside in favor of a relatively stress-free chum-fest among our Republican representatives.

Paula Hawks, the Democrat running for our lone House seat against incumbent Kristi Noem, and Jay Williams, the Democratic challenger to John Thune, are being shut out of probably the highest-profile ag gathering in South Dakota.

Doesn't seem fair, but I guess it's their venue. Unlike Thune and his hissy-fit over Facebook's management of its news content a couple of months ago, I'm inclined to shrug it off when private enterprises run their businesses the way they want to.

Meanwhile, I'm sorry that we'll miss a confrontation between Hawks and Noem, because Paula Hawks impresses me as an articulate and knowledgeable candidate when it comes to ag issues.

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She grew up on a farm and her husband has a background in livestock production. Most pointedly, she'll call attention to Noem's perplexing decision to quit the House Agriculture Committee. I'd also like to hear Noem's (and for that matter Thune's and Rounds') plans for reinstating country of origin labeling, which was unceremoniously dumped at last winter's federal budget deliberations.

And as relevant as ever, trade issues need some airing out. Considering that all the Republicans in our delegation have done their pro forma political duties and endorsed Donald Trump, I'd want to know how that squares with Trump's well-known contempt for trade deals (NAFTA, the TransPacific Partnership come immediately to mind) that are uniformly supported — in a big way — by all the mainstream farm and livestock production organizations.

I've written here before about how the surge in freer trade via these agreements has led to a substantial increase in South Dakota's ag exports. Now they back the guy that wants to undo all that. Explanations, please?

In the meantime, Dakotafest or no Dakotafest, I hope that some way, somehow, we can get these incumbents on to a stage with their challengers and give South Dakotans some reason to send them back to D.C. or just plain send them packing.

John Tsitrian is a Rapid City businessman and freelance writer. You can read more of his commentary on his blog theconstantcommoner.blogspot.com.

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