Farm Bill Possibilities

House Aggie Peterson Sees Fewer Fights in Next Farm Bill

Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., spoke to members of the crop insurance industry Monday about the prospects for the next farm bill. (DTN file photo)

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. (DTN) -- After telling the crop insurance industry Monday that he wouldn't be in Congress if crop insurance had existed when he tried to farm, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he doesn't think the 2018 farm bill should be as hard as some in the past because he doesn't anticipate big fights within agriculture.

Peterson said he raised cattle in 4-H when he was in high school, and when he graduated in 1962, he sold the cattle and rented land to plant potatoes. But the potato crop was rained out three times and all his money was gone.

Peterson said he was forced to take a job to pay for college. After that, he became a certified public accountant and eventually ran for Congress.

Noting that crop insurance didn't exist at that time, he said, "That is why I am in Congress. I would be farming and retired and have a place down here."

Without crop insurance, Peterson said, there might be only 100 people farming in the United States because only wealthy people would have the "deep pockets" needed to handle the risk involved. People farming 150,000 acres now could farm 1 million acres, he said.

Turning to legislation, Peterson said, "I don't think this farm bill should be that hard to get done. We don't have that much to fight about. By and large, what we put together in 2014 is working."

But he continued that Congress will need to address the cotton program, which is not working to the satisfaction of those farmers. That will mean dealing with the issue of "generic base" under which farmers can shift to another crop and get the benefits tied to that crop. Cotton farmers have switched to peanuts, causing a glut of peanuts and high payments to the growers.

"We've got to figure out what to do with the generic base problem and the effect that that had on peanuts," he said, adding that dairy farmers are "still not totally happy."

Peterson told the crop insurance industry that hearings will begin as soon as Sonny Perdue, President Donald Trump's nominee for Agriculture secretary, is confirmed.

A spokeswoman for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, told DTN that the chairman wants to pass a new farm bill before the expiration of the current bill on Sept. 30, 2018, or earlier.

"We don't have an exact timeline, but the chairman plans to pass the farm bill on time, if not ahead of schedule, so those hearings will begin sooner rather than later," the spokeswoman said.

In a video shown at the crop insurance convention here, Conaway said there would be fewer committee hearings in the 115th Congress than in the 114th.

Conaway noted that farm bill costs are down, including for crop insurance.

"This means less insurance being sold due to lower prices," Conaway said in the video. "That's not good, but from political point of view, it means less of a target."

In his talk, Peterson also said committee members do have some "pet issues" they would like to see addressed, and that his are increasing the acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program.

The CRP, which makes payments to landowners and farmers for idling land to improve the environment and wildlife habitat, is limited to 24 million acres. But Peterson said that, with commodity prices low, he would like to raise the limit to 40 million acres.

CRP allowed 45 million acres when it started 30 years ago, Peterson noted. He said he wants to increase the limit in order to lower production to raise commodity prices, which he said was one of the purposes of the original program.

The original 2014 House version of the farm bill used a farmer's current planted acres rather than historical base acres to determine the acres on which farm subsidies would be paid, Peterson said. But the final bill used base acres because free-traders argued that the United States would get sued in the World Trade Organization over the use of currently planted acres to determine subsidies.

Base acres are controlled by landlords and are the reason that rents and land prices are not coming down. Peterson said he would like the 2018 bill to use planted acres because farmers want to update their base, which amounts to planted acres.

He warned that groups that have opposed the farm bill in the past such as the Heritage Foundation will oppose it again, and said the campaign from Heritage, the Club for Growth and the Freedom Caucus in Congress to separate the farm program and the nutrition title have a goal of eliminating farm programs. Peterson said the Republicans will have to make a decision on how to handle farm and nutrition programs, but that he does not yet have a commitment from Conaway to keep them in a single bill.

"My opinion is that if the Republicans decide to do that [separate the two], there won't be a farm bill," Peterson said.

(CC/AG)