WILLMAR — The defeat of U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson in the 7th Congressional District could have an impact on farmers in the state and the entire Midwest region.
Peterson is currently the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Having a Minnesota congressman in the top leadership position on the committee typically brings attention to the crops produced in that region in terms of policies and farm bills, said Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union.
Many people “don’t understand the value of that,” he said.
Peterson, a conservative Democrat from Detroit Lakes who didn’t always vote with his party during his 30 years in Congress, was soundly defeated by Michelle Fischbach, a Republican from Paynesville who has a long legislative history in Minnesota.
Fischbach said her first request will be to serve on the House Agriculture Committee.
But as a freshman lawmaker, she will be at the bottom of the rung in terms of holding the leadership position that took Peterson years to cultivate.
Wertish, from Murdock, said lawmakers from different ag regions “build a coalition” to work out differences in the farm bill for crops like cotton and rice in southern states and corn, soybeans, sugar beets and dairy in Midwest states like Minnesota. The chairman can put their priorities into the farm bill, he said.
“We’ve lost that now,” said Wertish. “It’ll take years to build that back up.”
The next committee chairman is expected to be from the southeast part of the country, which will put a “dramatic spin” on Midwest agriculture, Wertish said.
Peterson’s knowledge of agriculture was respected across party lines and among leaders of many farm commodity groups and lobbying organizations.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, issued a statement Wednesday thanking Peterson for his years on the Ag Committee and especially his years as the committee’s chairman.
Duvall said Peterson “has been a leader for rural America on such important issues as the farm bill, regulatory reform and a new trade deal. He made it clear through his work that his politics are grounded in farmers, livestock producers and rural America. That will be his legacy.”
Jim Kanten, a farmer from Milan and a board member of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, said he was “disappointed” Minnesota farmers won’t have Peterson’s voice in Congress.
“It’s a loss for the whole upper Midwest losing him as chairman,” said Kanten, who made his comments during a brief telephone interview Wednesday while he was in a tractor doing fieldwork.
“The impact is very large because he was a very respected voice of ag in Congress,” said Kanten, who said is looking forward to working with Fischbach “on the issues that will be affecting corn growers in the 7th District.”
According to the latest election figures, Fischbach defeated Peterson by nearly 50,000 votes with Fischbach getting about 53% of the vote compared to Peterson’s 40% share.
Peterson issued a short statement Wednesday thanking the people of the district for their support over the years.
“Serving them in Washington, D.C., has been a great honor, and I respect their decision to move in a different direction,” he said. “We ran a strong and positive campaign, but with the president winning this district by 30 points again, and the millions in outside money that was spent to attack me, the partisan tilt of this district was just too much to overcome."
Wertish said “fear politics” may have played a role in Peterson’s defeat in the sprawling district, which voted overwhelmingly for President Trump in 2016 and 2020.
Ads “demonizing” Nancy Pelosi that were linked with Peterson may have also hurt him, even though Peterson “had Nancy’s ear” and if Peterson wanted something for agriculture, Pelosi made sure it happened, Wertish said.
He said Farmers Union leaders are eager to meet with Fischbach to talk about policies that affect the ag industry. “The bottom line is we want what’s best for ag,” he said.
On Tuesday, while making comments to the news media before the results of the race were known, Fischbach said she talked with farmers “across the district” during the campaign and that she will continue to do that when she goes to Washington.
“We’re talking to them and making sure we understand what they want and what they need,” said Fischbach, who supported Trump’s trade policies and tariffs on China.
On Tuesday night Fischbach was optimistic Trump would win re-election and that he would continue to negotiate with China for a “better deal” for farmers.
When asked how she would work with a potential President Joe Biden, Fischbach said she would use her skills of working across party lines that she used in the state Senate and with governors and lawmakers from both parties.
“I understand how to work with both sides and in both the minority and the majority,” she said.