leader sees few changes in 2007 Farm Bill
Bob Krauter Capital Press California Editor
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - The new
chairman of the House Agriculture Committee
has a vision of what the next farm bill should
look like: similar to the current bill, but
with a focus on renewable energy
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told farmers
and ranchers Monday at the American Farm
Bureau annual meeting in Salt Lake City that
his committee is ready to take on the
challenge of writing a new farm bill.
New House Agriculture Commitee Chairman
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., thinks few
changes are needed in the 2007 Farm Bill,
but it should have a focus on renewable
energy. Peterson spoke to nearly 5,000
farmers and ranchers Monday at the
American Farm Bureau annual meeting in
Salt Lake City, Utah.
"We will have a lot of fights getting to where
we need to get," Peterson said, but he predicted
few changes from the current law.
"I think the farm bill will look a lot like where
we are now."
Peterson has witnessed the development of three
federal farm bills in his 16 years in Congress. He
recalled the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act, which drove
farm subsidies up sharply under the law's core -
market transition payments. "It didn't work,"
One change he supports in the new bill includes a
permanent disaster program. He said it was a
mistake that Congress did not pass a disaster bill
for the 2005 and 2006 crop years. He said there
would be urgency in the new Congress to pass a $3
billion disaster bill and hopefully include a
permanent disaster program in the next farm bill.
"Hopefully in the next farm bill we can get
something done and we won't have to go through
this out into the future," Peterson said.
Conservation programs, which received significant
increase in funds in the 2002 Farm Bill, are
expected to get support among many members of
Congress, but Peterson said the big driver in the
new farm bill will be renewable energy.
"Conservation will be an issue, but I think what
is really going to drive this farm bill is going
to be renewable energy and energy independence,"
Peterson said. "The country wants us off foreign
oil. The country wants us to produce our fuel here
in the United States. I am absolutely there 100
Support for renewable energy in Congress is
growing, including the House Democratic caucus
headed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-San
Peterson is solidly behind efforts to help the
U.S. achieve energy independence.
"I am for anything we can do in this country -- I
am for drilling, I am for increasing mileage on
cars, I am for nuclear, I am for coal, I am for
what ever we can do that makes economic sense here
in the United States to quit buying foreign oil,"
The ethanol industry is booming in his home state
of Minnesota with more corn being grown, ethanol
plants are more efficient and farmers are enjoying
better prosperous times.
But Peterson said the farm bill should not limit
its focus on corn-based ethanol.
"To get to where I think we need to be to produce
50 percent of our energy in rural America, we
can't do it with just corn. We will run into the
wall at some point," Peterson said. "The future is
in cellulosic ethanol."
Cellulosic ethanol is produced by converting wheat
straw, rice straw, switchgrass and wood chips into
energy. He envisions possibly a CRP-type program
to pay farmers to grow crops that can supply
To make the technology feasible, Peterson said
government help is needed to get the first
cellulosic plants off the ground and to fund
"What we need to do to get to the level where I
would like to get, we need to figure out what are
the best biomass crops to grow," Peterson said.
"We don't know enough."
The new chairman has been discussing the farm bill
with other members of Congress, especially those
who serve on budget committees in the House and
Senate. Peterson does not expect resistance in
gaining the necessary funds for the new farm bill
given the fact that federal crop payments have
declined in recent years.
"We are the only part of the United States
government that is saving money the last four or
five years. We are projected to save even more
money," Peterson said. "So therefore, we should
get some consideration as they put the budget
together and potentially get some additional
resources to do the things we need to do."
He intends to complete work on the 2007 Farm Bill
and have it on President Bush's desk before the
current bill expires Sept. 30, 2007. Peterson is
optimistic that a comprehensive bill can be
I believe that going forward, that we can get
conservation, we can get wildlife, we can get
fuel, and have somebody other than the government
pay for it with this new program," Peterson said.
"I really believe this will be a win all the way
around. We have an opportunity to move beyond this
fight we have had on commodity programs. I think
this renewable fuels situation will move us beyond
that to a whole new paradigm in this country."
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