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Splitting the farm bill not a good idea, says Collin Peterson

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 07/19/2013 8:47 AM

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LITTLE FALLS, Minn. — Seventh District congressman Collin Peterson said it's "probably not a good idea" to attempt to pass a farm bill by splitting it from food nutrition legislation.

Republican friends have told him their party has decided to propose the split.

Peterson, speaking at a farm bill and ag issues forum, hosted by Eighth District congressman Rick Nolan, said the Senate might not agree to the split.

Keeping food, nutrition and the farm program together has worked well, Peterson said. He's concerned that separating them might cause deeper cuts in the farm program.

Republican Rep. Eric Cantor favors the farm bill split, but House ag committee chairman Frank Lucas is opposed, Peterson said.

"Cantor has been pushing to have a partisan bill that has no Democrats voting for it," he said. "We told him we didn't think that would work."

For the first time in his 23 years in the House, Peterson said he has no idea what will happen.

"This is the first time that I've ever said that in my career," he said. "… And I don't think the Republicans have any idea, either. It's a mess."

Despite the gridlock and failure to pass a farm bill, farm programs are active and need the farmers' attention, said Morrison County Farm Service Agency director Darrell Larsen. Farmers should continue to contact their FSA office to participate in conservation and loan programs.

"Some think that because the farm bill didn't pass, they don't need to contact the office," Larsen said. "That's not the case."

Nolan said the atmosphere in Congress has changed since he first served. During his first term, good debate occurred.

"You would argue and debate on an amendment, make your final decision and, in the process of doing that, you got to know one another, and you got to see where those areas of collaboration and cooperation would be with other congressmen," he said. "That doesn't happen anymore. The Democrats are as guilty of that as the Republicans."

Peterson and Nolan also mentioned gridlock over the food and nutrition program proposals. While the House farm bill called for SNAP program cuts, some representatives voted against the farm bill because they wanted more cuts, and others voted against it because the cuts were too deep.

"People lose sight of the fact that two-thirds of the people on the program are children," Nolan said. "If you work for $7.50 an hour, you don't have the money for food. The numbers of those participating in the SNAP program will decline as the economy continues to improve."

Local government offices also are managing with fewer dollars because of the federal sequestration. Larsen usually had four program technicians and five temporary workers to help farmers with program sign-ups.

Morrison County has more than 2,500 farms to certify, and 40 percent are certified at this time, he said.