Even with the Tuesday's elections shifting the power in the House to Democrats next session, the House Agriculture Committee’s top-ranking Democrat Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said his No. 1 priority is getting a farm bill approved in the coming weeks.
“I have no interest in waiting until the next Congress,” Peterson said. He added that the presumed new House leadership of Reps. Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal., and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., are also on board with Peterson to get the bill wrapped up in the upcoming weeks.
Peterson has mostly been in line with Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., regarding the main provisions of the farm bill, including opposition to nutrition assistance work requirements and changes to crop base acres that would funnel more money to cotton producers. There also has been some disagreement with current House Agriculture Committee chairman Mike Conaway (R., Texas) on the conservation title.
Conaway previously was criticized for holding out for too long, particularly on his push for the nutrition assistance work requirements and a new wrench allowing for a wheat acreage update that could divert as much as $500 million more to cotton farmers.
Peterson said at the end of the day, none of the outstanding issues warrant holding up the entire farm bill. He explained that most of the current proposals in play have been scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which should also help get a compromise bill determined quickly.
“Now, it’s just a question of piecing this thing together and who will agree to what,” Peterson said in a conference call with media reporters Wednesday morning. “If people will just agree to agree this week, we can have this language next week when we come back” and set up for a full conference vote shortly after that.
Currently, the House is projected to be in session Nov. 13-16 and then to return again Nov. 27-30, Dec. 4-7 and Dec. 10-13.
Peterson said he has not heard House Democrats say they want to delay the farm bill, so “if it gets delayed, it won’t be because of us.”
He added that Conaway has little power left to try to push through stricter work requirements. “I think given what happened in this election, I don’t know what leverage they think they have,” Peterson said of House Republicans. “I get the sense they’re going to work this out. There’s no reason we can’t get this done. I will do everything in my power to get this done.”
Agricultural groups also took the opportunity Wednesday morning to again support farm bill passage yet this year.
Agriculture has always depended on support from both sides of the aisle, and now that the midterm elections are over, the American Soybean Assn. (ASA) said it expects that long-standing, bipartisan cooperation to be renewed. “ASA reiterates its request for the now lame-duck 115th Congress to pass a new five-year bill that can provide greater certainty and long-term stability during a down farm economy and time of trade strife,” ASA said in a statement.
John Heisdorffer, ASA president and soybean grower from Keota, Iowa, said, “The farm bill is our greatest risk management tool. With the economic challenges facing all farmers today, tools such as crop insurance, as well as [Average Revenue Coverage] and [Price Loss Coverage], are invaluable. In addition to support from farm programs, funding for the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program and Market Access Program (MAP) is needed. FMD funding has already lapsed, and MAP funding will run out at year’s end. These programs are critical to the soybean industry, particularly with the need to open and expand markets to offset sales lost to China.”
National Association of Wheat Growers president and Oklahoma wheat grower Jimmie Musick said, “While the 2018 midterm elections brought change to the political makeup of Congress, this should not impact the priority of passing the 2018 farm bill by the end of this session of Congress. With the farm bill having expired, growers are left with much uncertainty and are denied access to several beneficial programs within the bill.
“In particular, the outlook for Foreign Market Development funding is in doubt until action is taken. Additionally, the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] no longer has the authority to undertake new signups for the Conservation Reserve Program, which incentivizes growers to incorporate healthy soil, non-tillage and other similar practices into their operations,” Musick said.