Peterson says putting farm bill together was intensive but enjoyable

WILLMAR -- Writing a new farm bill, and the arm-twisting that entailed, occupied all of U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson's time for the first six months of the year.

WILLMAR -- Writing a new farm bill, and the arm-twisting that entailed, occupied all of U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson's time for the first six months of the year.

This last month has given the first-year House Agriculture Committee chairman a chance to catch up on other issues and adopt a more relaxed schedule. Peterson was in Willmar on Wednesday for meetings with constituents about a variety of issues. He also stopped in the Tribune offices.

Peterson now awaits the Senate's farm bill, so that a conference committee can iron out differences.

Putting the farm bill together was an intense experience, but he enjoyed it, too, Peterson said.

Right after the election last year, Peterson said, he started traveling to Texas, Georgia, California, Arkansas and other states where people were concerned about having a northern agriculture chairman. "When they got the chance to meet me, they were a lot more comfortable," he said.


Major farm organizations invited him to speak at their functions, too.

"I was basically on the road for three months," he said, but it laid the groundwork for the farm bill he wanted to develop.

When he started working on the bill in February, he moved into the Agriculture Committee offices and "literally never even got over to my personal office for three months."

Sometimes he had three meetings going on at once, he said, and some of those meetings were "basically me going in and threatening people. ... 'Here's what we need to do, and you guys are going to have to sign off.'"

It wasn't always easy to persuade people to support other programs in order to gain support for their own, he said. "There were conversations I had with good friends of mine that I never thought I would have."

Involving other members of the committee in some of those meetings helped them understand the varied interests included in the bill.

During that time, Peterson was often unable to get away for meetings with constituents.

"I had to do something I haven't done in 17 years, and that's have my staff meet with people," he said. "The people from home were very understanding."


The farm bill the House approved in late July maintains the current safety net system of payments and loans for farmers. It increases spending for conservation and renewable energy and increases funding for food stamps and international food aid. Mandatory country-of-origin labeling for foods, delayed for six years, is set to go into effect next year.

A dispute over how to fund the food stamp improvements kept many Republicans from voting for the bill, but Peterson said he believes the changes are needed. He's willing to listen to other ideas for funding, but "we're not backing off now on the food stamp changes."

The bill allows people to deduct child care costs from their income and increases the value of a car deduction. That will allow more low-income single parents and families to qualify for food programs, he said.

"It helps the working poor who are struggling," he said. "These are the people we want to help."

Some members of the Senate Agriculture Committee like his bill, but Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has some ideas of his own, Peterson said.

The two meet weekly to discuss farm issues, Peterson said, and they have made some progress on resolving their differences before the Senate begins work on its bill.

If the two bills are similar, it will be easier for them to iron out differences later this year.

But the Senate has its own politics to deal with, and "they'll have to do what they're going to do," Peterson added.

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