REDWOOD FALLS, MINN. - Fielding questions from a panel of agricultural leaders, seven congressional candidates agreed Tuesday on a need to keep fuel and feed costs down for farmers while sustaining economic and environmental stability.

Seventh District Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., called for an end to the food vs. fuel fight in grain crops.

Mayo Clinic physician Brian Davis, the Republican-endorsed candidate to challenge Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat, in the First District, advocated off-shore drilling to alleviate fuel costs, a call he made throughout the hour-plus long forum at FarmFest.

Other taking part were Walz; state Sen. Dick Day, of Owatonna, who is facing Davis in the First District GOP primary; Seventh District Republican Glen Menze, the GOP-endorsed candidate to challenge Peterson; Sixth District DFLer Elwyn Tinklenberg, and Second District DFLer Steve Sarvi.

Reps. Michele Bachmann and John Kline, GOP incumbents in the Sixth and Second, didn't attend, citing scheduling conflicts.

The Q&A session was marked by mild skirmishes between Walz and Davis. At one point, after Davis noted his past work as an engineer in the energy industry, Walz said: "I, too, worked in the energy industry. I pumped gas to get through college."

The audience burst into applause and laughter. Davis grinned.

The candidates largely shied away from throwing punches, but Tinklenberg noted that Bachmann voted against the farm bill spearheaded by Peterson. "That may explain why she isn't here today," he said. He also noted that Bachmann voted against the 2007 energy bill.

Peterson was praised by the others for his work on the farm bill, which he said was a victory for the Midwest but was not without flaws.

Menze, Day and Tinklenberg stressed their farming roots, while Walz revisited his days a Mankato teacher and National Guard member.

Sarvi shared stories from his experience as a soldier in Iraq and Kosovo, Davis leaned on his work as a doctor and engineer.

Chao Xiong • 612-673-4391