By Mike Christopherson
Although the U.S. House and Senate versions of the 2012 Farm Bill are different in a fairly significant way, Seventh District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) remains confident that a compromise bill can be hammered out by early August.
"There are a lot of things in the bills that everyone is pretty happy with," Peterson said in a conference call with reporters prior to his farm bill update meeting in UMC's Youngquist Auditorium Monday. "But the Senate decided to get rid of the target price concept and counter-cyclical payments in favor of a revenue average crop payment system."
That's not popular in the House, he added. Two days of recent hearings in the House resulted in essentially unanimous opposition to eliminating the target price system and counter-cyclical payments. "We think it's a mistake," Peterson said. "It's not a partisan difference of opinion, either, but a philosophical difference that's rooted a little bit in geography, too."
The opposition in the House boils down to "managing farm programs based on good times," which Peterson said is what the Senate commodities proposal does. "We need to be concerned about bad times and bad prices, which we know will come at some point," he said. "It's a mistake to take out price protection."
He said he's heard from the Senate that farmers will change what they plant if the target price/counter-cyclical payment system goes away. But Peterson said that's not what he's hearing from growers in his district. "I haven't talked to one farmer that's backed that up," he said. "They say it's (target price, counter-cyclical payment) the fourth or fifth thing they consider when deciding what to plant."
Maintaining the target price system is priority one in the House, Peterson said, mostly because he and his colleagues fear the Senate proposal tries to fix a crop insurance system that isn't necessarily broken. "Crop insurance is relatively inexpensive, but now you're going to add on top of that a revenue component," he explained. "People in the House are concerned that it interferes with crop insurance, it duplicates it, and might change the level of insurance that producers buy."
He's hoping to get valuable feedback from growers in his district during a series of farm bill update meetings he's hosting. Monday's session at UMC attracted around 40 growers and agriculture officials from the region. He figures the Senate version of the bill will go to the floor in early June, and that the House will follow a couple weeks later. He'd like the bill to be in the conference committee by July in order to provide enough time to hammer out a compromise bill before Congress' August recess.
"Once we get to conference, it won't take long," Peterson said. "We know what the issues are."
But if the timeline stretches out and there's no new farm bill by the November election, Peterson's envisioning big problems for the bill. "If we get past the election, my optimism will be reduced significantly; we'll have big problems," he said. A legislative climate that involves a lame-duck session, a farm bill extension or renewed negotiations on a new bill in 2013 is something Peterson wants to avoid. "That's going to be a significantly worse climate than getting it done now," he said.