Peterson remains pessimistic about Farm Bill's chances
MONTEVIDEO — U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told about two dozen farmers Monday in Montevideo that he remains pessimistic about passing a Farm Bill by the end of the month, when the current legislation expires.
However, he told those who joined him at the Trailways Café that lawmakers "are not giving up."
Peterson, the ranking minority member on the House Agriculture Committee, said he and Republican chairman Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma "are going to try to figure out how to get this done.''
Yet even if the House approves a bill, Peterson admitted it is uncertain whether policy differences could be resolved with the Senate.
Peterson pointed out that throughout the past month, he has not received a single call from his colleagues across the aisle on the Farm Bill.
"No one called me. There's nothing going on, no discussion going on,'' he said.
He told the group that many in the majority party in the House oppose not only the food stamp provision, officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but any type of Farm Bill itself.
Peterson said southern states used to elect representatives who were concerned about agriculture. However, he said, the last two elections saw winners emerge from the South who could not "care less about farmers.''
"They want to get rid of farm programs, cut the budget,'' Peterson said. "It's a different world.''
A very different world could be coming if a Farm Bill is not approved.
Peterson said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told him the administration would veto an extension of the current Farm Bill, and allow the so-called permanent law enacted in 1949 to once again stand.
The 1949 law sought parity between farm and city economic indicators. Under that law, the federal government would be obligated to support milk prices at 75 percent of parity, or roughly $39 a hundredweight, in contrast to current prices closer to $18.
Corn would be supported at $6.80 a bushel and wheat at $16 a bushel under the 1949 law. There would be no support for soybeans because there were no soybean supports in 1949.
If somehow a compromise is reached to extend the current program, rather than fall back to the 1949 law, Peterson warns that funding would not be available to maintain some conservation programs like the wetland reserve program. Various energy, and fruits and vegetable programs in the current bill also would not be funded.
Direct payments would continue under the current program, and crop insurance would remain. The Conservation Reserve Program would continue. So would the current dairy program, which is bad news for dairy producers in the state, he noted.
He also warned that continuing the current farm bill — or adopting a new one without developing a floor or minimum support price for major crops — could lead to major problems down the road.
Peterson said corn prices this year could fall below $4 a bushel, based on projections of a big crop. If the following year also produces a bumper crop, and $3.50-a-bushel corn, that becomes the maximum price at which farmers could insure their income. "You won't be able to insure your crop at a level where you can make a profit,'' he said.
Peterson was clearly dismayed by what he termed the "mess'' in Washington and noted that voices for agriculture are few.
"I think this might be the last Farm Bill. There are so few of us left who understand agriculture, represent agricultural interests,'' he said. "It's so partisan. It is just hard to get this done anymore.''