LITTLE FALLS — Serving 23 years on the House Agriculture Committee, one might expect Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., to have a pretty good handle on what will happen with the farm bill that was voted down June 20 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
That’s not the case, judging from his comments Monday at an agriculture forum he and Rep, Rick Nolan, D-Minn., sponsored at the Morrison County Government Center.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” the former chair and ranking minority member of the Agriculture Committee, said. “None. That’s the first time in my 23 years I’ve ever said that. It’s a mess.”
The two congressmen voted differently on the bill (Peterson supported it and Nolan voted against it) but shared a sense of exasperation at how they claim their Republican counterparts damaged what was a bipartisan bill.
Nolan said after Monday’s meeting he supported a bipartisan compromise bill that came out of committee, but that on the House floor, “poison pill” amendments designed to ensure it would be voted down resulted in a bill that he couldn’t support. Despite the setback, Nolan said he thinks there will be a farm bill.
“I’m reasonably optimistic we’re going to get a farm bill,” he said.
Peterson, speaking after the meeting, was less optimistic, expressing concern that an effort to separate agriculture provisions from the food stamp part of the bill could prove fatal to the legislation.
He said he supported the bill because he thought he had worked out a deal with the Republican House Agriculture Committee chair.
Had the farm bill passed, he said, it would have saved $40 billion in cuts to the food stamp program. Peterson said critics who said the cuts weren’t deep enough persisted even though adopting no farm bill means that program will continue as is with no cuts.
“These are the kinds of screwballs we have to work with,” Peterson said.
When people ask him why Congress can’t get anything done Peterson said his response is often “I’m not electing these idiots.”
“We’ve been trying to get Collin to speak his mind,” Nolan told the crowd. “It’s coming along nicely.”
Nolan said the reason why nutrition issues are a part of the farm bill is to create a broad base of rural and urban interests in Congress. He noted there aren’t as many representatives from farm districts as there once were.
“If we have to stand alone we might get beat up pretty badly,” he said.
Duane Cekalla, a former Benton County commissioner and retired farmer, emphasized the importance of transportation funding to rural areas.
Joining Nolan and Peterson on the panel were Darrell Larsen, county executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency; Carol Anderson of the Morrison County Development Commission; and Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson.
Larsen said rain and high winds have resulted in a poor growing season this year with an unscientific “windshield check” revealing many unplanted fields in central Minnesota on June 10.
Referring to the traditional reference point of corn that’s knee high by the Fourth of July, Larsen said “You might have to take your grandkids out there.”
Anderson said rural development is just a sliver — about 1 1/2 percent — of the farm bill.
“The farm bill is very important to us,” she said. “Sometimes being small, it’s easier to take an ax to it.”
Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, and Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Cass County, briefly addressed the crowd. Kresha said state legislators work hard to keep politics out of the way of farm policy. Gazelka agreed there was not much partisanship on agriculture issues at the state level and thanked Nolan for inviting him to the forum.