Peterson: Difficulties over farm bill could lead to extension
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said last week that passing a new farm bill in 2018 may prove to be so difficult that Congress may end up extending the 2014 bill.
In an hour-long session with the North American Agricultural Journalists, Peterson said the biggest difficulty in passing a new farm bill may be demands for labeling, not just for genetic modification, but for other issues such as sustainability.
Labeling, he said, “is dividing agriculture” and it brings people into the who are not involved in agriculture. That is going to make it too difficult to do. Frankly some of these people cannot be dealt with. You cannot satisfy some of these people, Their objective is not what they say it is.”
Some of the activists, he noted, don’t believe there should be large farms growing corn, wheat and soybeans just as there are people who don’t believe roads should be built.
But a lot of labeling issues, he said, are “created by people in agricultural sales” who are using the labels to get market share from each other.
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Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., discusses the farm bill with members of the North American Agricultural Journalists last week on Capitol Hill. (Charles E. de Bourbon/The Hagstrom Report)
The prospects for a farm bill in 2018 will depend on who is president and
whether the Senate goes Democratic while the House remains Republican.
He said it is “premature to build strategies” for a 2018 farm bill. “You have to know where the players are before you have strategy sessions.”
“We could live with just an extension,” Peterson said.
“There isn’t anything that has to be done,” Peterson said, noting that there is nothing like the cotton case that Brazil won against the United States which required a change in the cotton program in the 2014 farm bill
Peterson also repeated previous statements that he opposed the efforts of then-House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., to make the 2014 farm bill permanent law. Under the current system, laws passed in the 1930s and 1940s are permanent and force passage of a new law because the programs in the permanent law are antiquated and unworkable. If the permanent law had been changed, Peterson said, Congress would have wanted to extend the 2014 bill, but cut spending for it. With the old laws in place, he said, Congress might simply extend the 2014 bill without cuts or changes.
But his willingness to accept an extension does not mean that Peterson sees no problems with the 2014 bill.
“If the Senate had listened to us, we would have a better farm bill,” Peterson said noting he and Lucas opposed the Agriculture Risk Coverage program. They favored the Price Loss Coverage, which was included in the bill, but with lower price guarantees than Peterson preferred.
“Right now people are getting money out of [ARC], but next year because of the rolling average they won’t. so we don’t have a very good safety net.”
With crop insurance lower, crop insurance policies based on price changes will also pass less, he noted. “I think you will see people switch back to yield policies,” he said.
Peterson also noted that dairy farmers are not satisfied with their margin protection program, which is based on the difference between dairy prices and the cost of production.
Peterson said the problems in the dairy program show what happens when a farm bill is written “in a high priced, high cost environment.”
Both dairy prices and input costs have gone down, he noted. Peterson said he has worked with the National Milk Producers Federation to try to determine “the sweet spot” on which the dairy program should be based.
Peterson said it is still unclear how the program should be changed. Some dairy farmers would still like to get the old Milk Income Loss Contract payments. But Peterson said he is also looking into whether the Risk Management Agency, which runs the crop insurance program, should take over dairy.
“Is it time to put this into a regular crop insurance program in the next farm bill? We haven’t made a decision about that,” Peterson said.
There is a question of whether there would be crop insurance agents available in dairy producing areas to sell the policies, he noted.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has suggested that the differential between the dairy prices and the cost of production should vary by region, but Peterson said he doesn’t want to get into different regions having different programs.
If conservatives succeed in splitting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program better known as SNAP or food stamps, “there won’t be a farm bill. We might as well go home and not worry about it.”
But he added that he thinks the ultimate goal of Heritage Action, the Club for Growth and other conservative groups is not to end SNAP, which would be politically difficult because it serves so many people, but to get rid of farm programs.
–The Hagstrom Report