Congressman Peterson Is New House Ag Chair

Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson will be the Chair of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee when Congress convenes in January, 2007. This is significant because the next session of Congress will likely write and approve the next Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill expires in 2007. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa will be the Chair of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, starting in January, 2007. It also appears likely that Tim Walz, newly elected First District Congressman, will be appointed to the U.S. House Ag Committee. Current First District Congressman Gil Gutknecht has served on the House Ag Committee for the past 12 years. Most likely, Senator-Elect Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota will be appointed to the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee. Current Senator Mark Dayton has served on the Senate Ag Committee for six years. Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman also serves on the Senate Ag Committee.

Everyone is wondering what the change in Congressional leadership will mean in regards to development of the next Farm Bill. Based on past history, and the positions of the key Congressional leaders, the “big picture” dynamics for writing the next Farm Bill are not likely to change very much. The writing of a Farm Bill tends to be more politically bi-partisan than many other pieces of legislation debated and enacted by Congress. Members of Congress tend to represent the best interests of farm operators and the agriculture industry in their own state, in lieu of strictly party-line positions, when writing a new farm bill. However, with Congressman Peterson directing the agenda for the new farm bill in the U.S. House, and Senator Harkin in the U.S. Senate, there are some issues and provisions that are much more likely to be considered than with the previous Congressional leadership.

Peterson generally likes the “safety-net” features of the current Farm Bill, and would probably like to maintain many of these key features, with some tweaking, in the next one. Peterson is also an advocate of enacting some form of permanent disaster assistance into the next Farm Bill, instead of Congress dealing with ad hoc disaster legislation nearly every year. Peterson also wants to see a very strong energy component included in the next bill, with a focus on development of renewable energy in rural areas, especially cellulosic ethanol production. Peterson is willing to consider expansion of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and to allow raising switchgrass on those CRP acres to be used for energy production.

Conservation programs have always been a strong ag policy hot button for Harkin, including the Conservation Security Program (CSP) that was enacted with the 2002 Farm Bill. Adequate funding and further expansion of CSP are likely to get considerable discussion during the upcoming Farm Bill debates. Harkin has also been a proponent of tighter payment limits for farm program payments. Extension of the current Farm Bill is still a possibility, though may not be as likely as it was several months ago. Many farm groups and members of Congress, as well as U.S. Ag Secretary Mike Johanns, are calling for the writing of a new Farm Bill in 2007, rather than simply extending the current one for another year or longer.

Editors note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN.

You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.