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Peterson comments on farm policy issues.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson recently addressed the annual meeting of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association via telephone. During his prepared remarks and a question-and-answer session, Peterson touched on a wide range of farm policy issues as well as topics related to the current economic problems facing the nation. Among these issues were:

Farm bill implementation: Peterson said it is "slower than I want" but that the Obama administration is "taking a different tone and doing what is the intent of Congress." Peterson revealed that he has assigned Anne Simmons of his staff to move to USDA for the next 30 to 45 days during which time she will provide committee oversight of the implementation process.

USDA reorganization: The chairman said this is "more of a structure issue" and that the matter will "probably be pushed back until next year." He said he wants to get USDA's computer system "into the 21st Century."

USDA sub-Cabinet positions: Asked if he knew who would take some of the key USDA positions, Peterson said, "I do not know. [The process] appears to have slowed down ... possibly because I and others had some real problems with some of the people they were considering, and I made my views known.... The deputy [secretary] position is one of the positions I had some thoughts about and I made them known."

Conservation reserve program: Peterson said he was concerned last year when USDA was contemplating freeing up more CRP acres when corn prices went to $7 to $8. "We will see a good bit of maturing CRP acres staying in the program," Peterson said, adding that he is urging USDA to hold CRP signup this year" and said the department should try to strike "the right balance" in keeping adequate land in the CRP. He said that in the future, the CRP will likely total 25 to 28 million acres rather than 35 million acres "if it is done right."

WTO Doha Round: Peterson declared the multilateral trade negotiations "dead in the water." He said recent Doha Round discussions following sessions by trade officials in Davos, Switzerland, showed "divisions on trade issues are even bigger than last year. They should go back to the drawing board, away from ideology and they need to get real."

Climate change bill: Peterson said discussions regarding a cap-and-trade or climate change bill would take place this year "and agriculture has got to get to the table and have an offense strategy." Peterson also said he wants to make sure the Commodity Futures Trading Commission stays within the Agriculture Committee's jurisdiction, and that the Ag Committee has jurisdiction over the agriculture portion of the climate change bill.

Economic stimulus package: Peterson explained why he was among the 10 Blue Dog Democrats in the House who voted against the stimulus package, along with one other Democrat. "For the same reasons I voted against the initial bailout package for the banks, I knew it would not work," he said. In addition, Peterson said, "None of this is paid for and I don't want to have China keep funding our debt."

Peterson said he has "no problem with infrastructure funding because this country needs that longer term anyway." He said he also supports funding for food stamps and additional aid for those unemployed and in need of health insurance. But he cautioned that, ":So far, China, Japan and others are financing our debt and spending. But if that would change, we could be looking at 15 percent to 20 percent interest rates like in the early-1980s."

He said that the focus is now on the Senate and that it looks like the House bill will not be the final bill. "Obama just needs to hammer down some people on this issue," he said.
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Publication:The Food & Fiber Letter
Date:Feb 9, 2009
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