Peterson Protects Unraveling of Farm Bill Deals

Ranking member Collin Peterson imparts his wisdom during House Ag Committee farm bill markup.

The House Agriculture Committee as well as the full House is bursting with freshman members, unaware of the history of farm programs’ mishaps and missed opportunities. But House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson made sure to insert history lessons throughout the 15-hour marathon of marking up the committee’s farm bill this week.

Peterson’s stint on the ag committee culminated in the last farm bill when he was the puppeteer of reaching consensus on increased funding for agriculture and nutrition during tight budget times while also striking key agreements on mandatory country-of-origin labeling and GIPSA.

In his words he would “throw into a room” those who needed to find a solution to the tough issues. Now many of those same agreements carefully crafted in the 2008 Farm Bill were challenged in the House Ag Committee’s debate Wednesday.

In a quip down memory lane, Peterson reminded members that the Freedom to Farm bill in 1996 built a phase-out of farm programs at a time when exports were booming and prices were high. Two years later, prices collapsed and Congress ended up spending four times as much bailing them out. From 1990 until 1996 we went on an “ideological binge and it blew up on us,” he said.

Wednesday a total of 109 amendments were filed, 97 were considered (the others were withdrawn) and a total of 44 adopted. View a full list of approved amendments. Or read a piece I wrote shortly after the committee voted 35-11 in favor of the bill. 

One of the first programs to come under attack was Peterson’s own Dairy Market Stabilization Program, which he acknowledged he’s been working on for 2.5 years to get it right.

He said despite Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and David Scott, R-Ga., attempt to strip out the supply management part of the program and doing “what they think is right, it is a recipe for disaster.” He added history has shown that producers cannot afford another year like 2009 when prices plummeted and supply soared.

Goodlatte’s attempt to strip the supply management component from the dairy market stabilization program failed by a margin of 29-17. The National Milk Producers Federation welcomed the support to keep the program as originally designed Peterson, whereas dairy processors were disappointed with the vote’s outcome.

Peterson added he’s not a huge fan of supply management however this approach will help transition this program to the private sector and help producers get used to using margin insurance as part of livestock risk management.

Peterson also protected his sugar producers in the 2008 Farm Bill with protections against a feared flood of Mexican sugar imports with the full implementation of NAFTA. Goodlatte proposed an amendment that would among other things repeal the Feedstock Flexibility Program and undo trade restrictions. The amendment failed.

The 2008 Farm Bill required USDA to better protect poultry and livestock producers with changes to the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration. After USDA released a rule, Congress was up in arms at the overarching reach of the proposed rule.

In an about-face, the committee approved an amendment that repeals the rules already finalized and prohibits USDA from finalizing any remaining rules. Peterson warned that the move is “opening up one huge can of worms and I don’t think it’s smart.” Congressional members shared that it was needed to keep USDA in check as well as give certainty to the industry.  

An amendment requiring USDA to submit a report on the steps they will take to bring the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program into compliance with a World Trade Organization ruling was also approved, despite Peterson’s questioning of its need.

“Let’s give [USDA] time to give us what we need. I don’t see any reason to put an arbitrary 90-day limit on it,” he said.

Peterson may have not been at the direct helm, but make no doubt he isn’t going to roll over and see changes he’s championed through over the years be overturned unnecessarily.

Many of these same issues will again likely be debated on the House floor, if or when the full House takes it up.

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