Farm Bill Talk During DTN Ag Summit

Former Ag Chairmen Talk About Challenges Heading Into 2023 Farm Bill

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Former Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, joined retired Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, at the DTN Virtual Ag Summit. The two congressional stalwarts talked about the congressional focus on farm bills, demands on funds and regulatory and labor issues facing farmers. (DTN screen capture from the Virtual Ag Summit)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Looking ahead at the 2023 farm bill prompted some strong insights Monday from a pair of former chairmen, each of whom had extensive history shepherding farm bills through Congress in difficult political climates.

Former Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, joined retired Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, at the DTN Virtual Ag Summit. Peterson chaired the House Agriculture Committee and worked both sides as majority and minority party on farm bills. Roberts can say the same, but he also is the only person to serve as chairman of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committee.

The conversation with Peterson and Roberts reflected the past cooperation among lawmakers from different parties that demonstrated agriculture issues related to the farm bill often aren't partisan as much as regional, or rural versus urban differences. Roberts, for instance, pointed to the farm bill debate leading up to the 1996 farm bill where he was more aligned with Democrats, but he could not get more funding for the bill from GOP leadership at the time.

"John Kasich, bless his heart, just would not give us the money that we were accustomed to for a regular farm bill," Roberts said. "So, we were stuck with a budget number that we had to work with."

Out of a budget challenge, what came was the "freedom to farm" policy, which at the time paid direct payments that did not require farmers to plant specific crops. The direct payments have been replaced by programs such as ARC and PLC, but the reform remains that allows farmers to choose more broadly the crops they raise.

"We have built on that, and they bill it as certainty and predictability. That wouldn't be a bad banner to wave this time round."


The problems now are similar to what Roberts faced in 1996 in that "Everybody is looking for more money," Peterson said.

That may be reference prices in ARC and PLC, or the crop insurance industry looking for an increase in administrative and operating costs -- A&O costs -- in the crop insurance programs.

Peterson pointed to the challenges now where more people and groups are asking for policy changes or higher funding that would increase the costs of the farm bill.

"We've got people out there all over the place asking for more money," Peterson said. "They want more money in the farm bill. They want higher reference prices. Asking for extra money is going to make this a tougher bill to get done."

DTN reported last week about the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on agricultural research and the calls to raise funding there.

See, "US Falling Behind in Ag Research With Heavy Demands on Science,"…

Still, Peterson said he is encouraged that "all of the people involved are saying the right things, and they're committed to getting a deal done."

Roberts pointed to the chairs and ranking members on the House and Senate Agriculture Committee as a strong group that understands agriculture. He said there are challenges right now with the GOP House leadership, though.

"A lot of it will be determined by the Republican leadership," Roberts said. "That's not an oxymoron. We've got a little problem in the House with the leadership right now where we have a rogue group from the Freedom Caucus challenging (Rep.) Kevin McCarthy," the GOP leader.

Roberts said the House GOP is "going to look damned silly as a party" if the GOP conference doesn't get organized for a speaker. He also said McCarthy "is a strong advocate for a farm bill."


Roberts noted the Biden administration is pointing to USDA's latest reports showing higher farm income. He recently talked to the manager of a Kansas farmer cooperative. The higher farm income is crossing heavily with the other side of the equation with producers facing higher costs and more regulatory challenges, Roberts said.

"I'm in favor of an alliance for regulatory reform," Roberts said. "All of the regulations that we were, quite frankly, able to get rid of in the last (Trump) administration are all back plus a lot of new ones. So, if you look at the farmer situation for the farmer in Dodge City, he says 'I'm having trouble getting diesel, I'm paying a lot more for it, and I'm having trouble getting fertilizer and I have to pay three times as much for it."


Roberts highlighted some regulatory issues outside of the Agriculture Committee's purview such as EPA's regulatory proposals on waters of the U.S. and the Department of Interior moving to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken on the Endangered Species list. Roberts said the habitat for the Lesser Prairie Chicken has moved northward because Kansas faces a drier climate.

"I don't know why they can't figure that out at U.S. Fish and Game (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)," Roberts said. "But all of a sudden you're stuck with a bunch of requirements on the regulatory side."

Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., the incoming chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, talked about his regulatory reform bill last week during an interview with DTN.


"Incoming House Ag Committee Chair Lays Out Farm Bill, Ag Supply Chain Priorities,"…


With the lame-duck session continuing, Peterson and Roberts also talked about the possibility of the U.S. Senate taking up a farmworker reform bill that would allow H-2A guest workers to work on the same farm more permanently. More than 300 groups have pushed the U.S. Senate to pass the bill, but the American Farm Bureau Federation doesn't like some of the provisions so does not support it. Labor, though, remains a challenge.

"Next to the farm bill, this is the biggest issue in agriculture," Peterson said. "We don't have enough workers to do what we need to do, not in dairy, all the fruits and vegetables and all different kinds of areas of ag. If we don't get some farm labor, we're going to be in trouble."

Roberts noted even a push for drones and automation cannot replace all of the needs of farm labor, but these farm labor bills get tied into border security and that complicates the votes, he said. Still, Roberts also defended the rationale behind requiring 60 votes in the Senate for such bills.

"That vote margin is absolutely essential to force bipartisan support," Roberts said. "Now, the other side of it is you may not get 60 votes."


The DTN Virtual Ag Summit continues Tuesday with outlook talks on grain prices, livestock markets and weather, as well as a panel discussion on emerging carbon markets.

Also see, " CHS Executive Halvorson Says Math Doesn't Add Up for Renewable Diesel Growth,"…

DTN will also post a full video of the conversation with Peterson and Roberts on our website as well.

Chris Clayton can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Chris Clayton