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Peterson defeat will be felt when next farm bill begins

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No matter what the outcome there a will be a significant change in the agricultural leadership of the House.
Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota helped the House Agriculture Committee and the Congress navigate multiple farm bills as its chairman or ranking member over the last two decades.

Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota helped the House Agriculture Committee and the Congress navigate the highly complicated waters of multiple farm bills as its chairman or ranking member over the last two decades. 

But the Minnesota Democrat’s voice will be missing when Congress reconvenes in January and when it begins writing the next farm bill following his defeat by a conservative Republican in the Nov. 3 election. 

“One of the biggest trees to fall in our recent election cycle was Rep. Collin Peterson, Democrat of Minnesota,” said Harrison Pittman, director of the National Agricultural Law Center. “He had been a stalwart for the agricultural community in the House of Representatives and had served as Ag Chair. 

“He had several decades of knowledge and experience in this area, and this is a tremendous loss in that respect for the agricultural community,” said Pittman, a speaker at a National Ag Law Center Webinar titled “Year in Review: Top 10 Ag Law Developments of 2020.” 

Pittman said Peterson’s departure from Congress – he was defeated by Republican Michelle Fischbach, an attorney who has no experience in agriculture – has already triggered a fight over who will be the next ag chair on the House side. 

“Right now, the two primary frontrunners are David Scott, a Democrat from Georgia, and Jim Costa of California,” Pittman said. “We will just have to wait and see how that’s going to play out. No matter what the outcome is we’re going to have a significant change in the agricultural leadership of the House. 

“All of this is happening, of course, against the backdrop of the time when we will be entering the debate and ultimately the enactment of the current farm bill. Our 2018 farm bill or most provisions of it are set to expire on Sept. 30 of 2022, and with the composition of Congress being what it is it could be quite interesting on the House side.” 

On the Senate side one of the few certainties appears to be that Arkansas Sen. John Boozman will be either the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee or its ranking member. “We’re waiting to see the outcome of the two Georgia runoff races,” he said. “That will tell us who will control the Senate.” 

The top candidates for ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee are Reps. Austin Scott of Georgia, Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania and Rick Crawford, who represents Arkansas’ First Congressional District. 

Secretary of Agriculture

For secretary of agriculture in a Biden administration the leading candidates appear to be Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio and former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota, Pittman said. 

“I think it bears mentioning that potentially Collin Peterson could be in that mix, as well,” he said. “Again, this will be a major change with the Department of Agriculture and happening at a particularly important time. 

“In addition to the uncertainty elections bring, when I mention the farm bill, keep in mind that we’ll be entering that debate against the backdrop of the largest federal deficit that we’ve had. We’ll still be dealing with the fallout and all the impacts of Covid-19 in the ag sector so there will be quite a bit of uncertainty to navigate in that regard.” 

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