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Collin Peterson Favorite to Chair the Agriculture Committee

When Democrats take control of the House in January, farm policy traditionalist and ethanol supporter Collin Peterson, of western Minnesota, is the odds-on favorite to chair the Agriculture Committee. He would be the first person since the Eisenhower era to chair the committee twice; he spearheaded the 2008 Farm Bill in his first go-around.

The guitar-playing fiscal conservative says he’ll vote to pass the Trump-negotiated successor to NAFTA in the new year. “In agriculture, it’s no huge win. At least we didn’t get hurt,” he says. He is skeptical that U.S. agriculture will benefit much from the trade war, given the impact of retaliatory tariffs on commodity prices.

Peterson’s first priority as chairman would be oversight, the dry DC word meaning a gimlet-eye scrutiny of USDA operations. Topping his list for review are the repeated complaints that checkoff programs effectively are piggy banks for large commodity groups and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s decision to move two research agencies out of Washington. A farm lobbyist says he is amazed at the free rein Perdue has enjoyed in USDA reorganization.

Entering his 15th term, Peterson intends to “elevate” the role of bright-minded Democrats on the committee, to create a corps of young farm policy experts. “I’m 74 and, at some point, I’m going to say this is enough. I’m not saying it today,” he told one broadcaster. As a past chairman and now the senior Democrat on the committee, Peterson was the obvious choice for chairman but needed party approval.

Farm groups have many goals for Congress in 2019. NFU President Roger Johnson lists action on climate change, monopoly power, and “maybe even some stability in the trade environment.” President Zippy Duvall of the Farm Bureau cites ag labor, growth in ag exports, regulatory relief, and infrastructure.

This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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