From food stamps to buffer strips, Pelican agriculture forum covered wide range of topics –including input from U.S. Congressman Peterson

United States Congressman Collin Peterson, Democrat-Detroit Lakes, was one of the featured panelists for a farm policy forum in Pelican Rapids Jan. 25.

The dizzying complexities of agriculture policy were explored for more than an hour in Pelican Rapids Jan. 24.

The discussion was wide-ranging and fascinating; yet barely scratching the surface of the complications of bringing food from field to table.

Food stamps, ethanol, organics, chemicals, commodities, insurance, substantiality, conservation, dairy, wheat, soybean, cotton –everything from soup to nuts will be on the table as lawmakers hammer out the 2018 farm bill.

In the thick of it, Congressman Collin Peterson, widely considered one of the nation’s leading expert on farm policy.

Peterson was one of the members of the panel for the community forum, at the Lake Region Electric Cooperative meeting room.

Nearly 100 attended the session.

Pressure is on for the four-year update, and Peterson said he is “skeptical” the deadline for the 2014 farm bill expiration will be met.

“In 2014, the Republicans blew it up over food stamps…for the first time in history, the farm bill failed on the floor of the House,” said Peterson. “If it gets screwed up this time, it will be because of food stamps.”

Though difficult to understand for the casual follower of ag policy, the Food Stamp (more accurately, SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and farming have a critical bond. SNAP represents 80 percent of the money in the Farm Bill, and has been a cornerstone of the U.S.  cheap and available” food policy which is rooted in the Great Depression.

Adapting and paraphrasing a famous quote: “You can’t have peace and democracy on an empty stomach.”

The majority of SNAP food stamp benefits go to children under 18; the elderly; and the disabled.

Food stamp fraud and abuse, a stumbling block issue every four years for the Farm Bill, has been in large part eliminated with the SNAP card program, said Peterson.

Bottom line, said Peterson, a Detroit Lakes Democrat: “If we screw up food stamps, there won’t be a farm bill.”

Food stamps aren’t the only undesirable baggage attached to the 2014 farm bill.

• The dairy program, which producers from New York to California to the upper midwest “hate,” needs to be fixed, said Peterson.

• Southern lawmakers will be demanding revisions in the cotton program, which could alone cost $2 to $3 billion.

• The Conservation Reserve Program wil be revisited.

Responding to a question on the Minnesota buffer strip legislation, Peterson made it clear that he differs with his Democratic colleague, Gov. Mark Dayton.

Requiring buffer strips is, in effect, a “taking” of land –which may yet be confirmed in court, said Peterson. As a U.S. lawmaker, he said the state of Minnesota needs to address it –through possible $30 to $40 an acre payments for buffers.

“(The state) took land without paying for it,” said Peterson, asserting that the federal government “is not going to bail Minnesota out of this problem.”