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Peterson on Developing the Next Farm Bill

Farm bill listening sessions are underway as officials begin developing the next edition. As with most farm bill discussions, it’s hard to know what to expect. Former Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, longtime chair of the House Ag Committee, spoke at the Ag Outlook Forum in Kansas City. His initial thoughts on the new bill weren’t overly optimistic.

“We’ll be lucky if we have any farm bill, given the way things are going, but I would say it will probably be evolutionary. Although another time, when we’re in the middle of this kind of a situation, we ended up with Freedom to Farm, which I would consider a revolutionary, so it’s hard to say.”

After his many years in the farm policy arena, he says it’s important to be realistic because no one gets everything they want in a new farm bill.

“It’s sausage making when you’re doing Farm Bill, and so, if you’re going to get something good, you’re probably gonna get something bad along with it. So, you mentioned freedom to farm. Part of that bill was not realistic, in my opinion. We’re not gonna get rid of farm subsidies. That was not something that made any sense, in my opinion, but we got some good stuff out of there. We got decoupling, which was a good thing, and the Kansas wheat farmers got a double payment, if I remember right, out of that, so they were happy. In just about every situation that I was involved in where you did something that you screwed up, you also got something decent out of it.”

He’s worried because recent farm policy seems to be coming from outside the traditional ag committees.

“All of this extra money that’s been given to farmers the last number of years by both administrations, it’s a big problem because we’re going to pay the price for that. All this money that we stuck into agriculture with the CFAP payments and now the disaster payments are going to come home to haunt us. Within Congress, because it’s hard for them to get anything done in these policy committees, the appropriators end up taking over the situation and that’s what’s kind of going on now. So, the appropriators have to step in when Congress doesn’t do what they should do, and so there are taking over more and more of this role as we go along. And we got people coming in and saying, ‘Well, maybe we should just get rid of the mandatory spending, and maybe we should have the appropriators appropriate all this stuff, authorize it, and have them appropriated’ which I think is a bad idea. It’s because of the people not getting along.”

Peterson says there may be another attempt during this process to split farm policy away from food policy.

“It killed the last two farm bills, that issue, first time in the history of the House. The Farm Bill was killed in the 2013 session after we put it on the floor because they offered this amendment to cut food stamps after they had promised they weren’t going to do it. That killed the bill in 2018, as well, and from what I’m hearing from members, they haven’t learned their lesson. I think they’re going to do it again. And if they get in control, they might be able to get this through Congress and have it split and cut food stamps. It might be able to get it through the Senate if they win the Senate, but I’ll guarantee you that if they do that, Biden will veto the bill. If I were chairman in this climate, the first thing I would do, I would sit down and settle this food stamp issue before I started on anything else.”

The Ag Outlook forum was sponsored by the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City and Agri-Pulse.

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