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Peterson thinks new Farm Bill will be adopted this summer

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson conducts a news conference Friday at the United FCS office in Willmar. Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the Ag Committee, believes a new Farm Bill will pass this summer. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR — U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson believes a new federal Farm Bill could be approved before Congress’ August recess.

In a visit to Willmar on Friday, Peterson said there is more Farm Bill-related activity in the U.S. House of Representatives this year than there was a year ago when the bill was never brought to a vote of the full House.

Leaders in the House have told him that they want to get a bill done this year, Peterson said. He is seeing more lobbying activity.

Peterson was the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee when the last Farm Bill was passed in 2008. The bill was to last five years, but has been extended once already.

With Republicans in charge of the House, Peterson now serves as the ranking Democratic member of the committee.

Peterson said it’s unclear at this point how many votes the Republicans will have for the bill, but he believes many members are getting some pressure from their farming constituents. The Farm Bill covers food stamps and school meal programs along with agriculture programs.

Some may also be stung by accusations “that government can’t get anything done,” he said.

Peterson said he has suggested to Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., that they take the bill to the floor, lobby for it and see if the votes are there.

The bill still faces some hurdles. The Senate is scheduled to debate the Farm Bill early next week and is expected to approve it. Peterson said he believes the House will finish voting on a final bill by July 1. A conference committee would meet in July, giving both chambers a chance to approve a bill before the August recess.

“From our point of view, this is it,” Peterson said. “It’s not going to get done if we wait.”

Peterson said the committee included more food stamp cuts than last year, but the House and Senate have differences.

Each chamber would make different changes to food stamp eligibility, he said. He favors some changes, too, because current guidelines allow states to use their own eligibility, and 41 of them do it.

Peterson said he doesn’t like situations where “people are treated differently depending on what state they live in.”

Peterson would prefer updating federal eligibility, to make it easier to qualify for federal benefits and no longer allow states to use their own guidelines.

“If we made those changes, we would save money,” he said.

Food stamps are a big issue in the Farm Bill, because about 80 percent of the House membership comes from urban areas. “They don’t believe in the ag part of the bill, even though they get cheap food,” he added.

The Farm Bill also makes changes to crop insurance and target commodity prices. It ends direct payments to farmers.

New target prices of $3.70 for corn, $5.50 for wheat and $8.40 for soybeans should help farmers, he said. The target prices will help farmers in a bad year, while direct payments were paid no matter what.

“At $3.70 corn, you’re not making money, but if the market collapses, you’ll survive,” he said.

A new crop insurance system will allow farmers to purchase additional coverage to cover a “shallow loss,” he said. Currently, crop insurance covers losses of more than 25 percent, but some producers frequently suffer smaller losses that are not covered.

The core of the crop insurance will go on as it currently does, he said.

On other issues, Peterson said he agrees with other members of Congress who have defended the widespread government surveillance of Internet, credit card and telephone records that has come to light after recent leaks.

“What they’re doing is probably the most important thing we’ve been doing” to follow terrorist activity, he said.

“They’re not targeting U.S. citizens, but some of these folks are here,” he said. “We’re in a different world right now.”

Peterson said he believes Minnesota is ahead of other states in developing a health care exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.

“There are a lot of problems with the bill, but one thing that needed to be done is the exchanges,” Peterson said. It allows individuals and small businesses to purchase their insurance in a large group, which should help more people afford insurance.

Peterson voted against the bill when it was first passed and still sees things he would like to change. He said he has asked Republican colleagues to work on improving parts of the bill that don’t seem to work as well, but they are more interested in futile attempts to repeal it.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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