Peterson talks meat industry aid, broadband to NFU
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., on Tuesday revealed a few more details of the legislation he will pursue if he wins re-election in November.
In a presentation to the National Farmers Union, Peterson repeated previous statements that he wants to give the Agriculture Department authority to use the Commodity Credit Corporation to deal with problems such as those that came up when meat plants were forced to close or slow down operations due to COVID-19.
“The pork producers are too efficient,” Peterson said. “They were so efficient that everything had to fall in place for everything to work out OK. When the plants shut down, everything backed up, especially in my district.”
While the Agriculture Department had been able to help in previous years when avian influenza hit poultry plants, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said he could not address the problems in the pork plants because he only had authority to deal with animals that are sick.
Peterson said he wants to give USDA authority to deal with disaster situations whether it is a human pandemic, African swine fever, foot-and-mouth disease or another round of avian influenza.
Peterson also noted that “it seems like people in the United States don’t want to own processing,” which has resulted in Smithfield being sold to the Chinese and other plants sold to JBS, which is Brazilian.
“This is not a good situation,” Peterson said, asking, “How could we attract American capital to provide other choices to farmers? Can we do something at the federal level to start more federally inspected plants that can be available?” Years ago, he said, there were more plants in Minnesota and Iowa where farmers could take their animals.
In the second year of the next Congress, Peterson said, his committee should start looking at the next farm bill, which needs to be written in 2023.
“I would rather focus on these other problems first. If we get more processing plants we have to get more money [for inspectors]. We don’t have money in the Ag Committee to fund these things.” Noting that he had been asked what Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president, could do for farmers, Peterson said that Biden “could find $60 billion to send out to the farmers.”
Peterson said that the money the Trump administration has sent to farmers from the CCC for trade and coronavirus aid has been needed, “but I’m not sure it was spent properly.”
“We have to figure out how we can come up with money to come up with all the things we need in agriculture,” Peterson said. “Commodity prices are too low. Without these government payments we’d be in big hurt.” He added that he believes the safety net in dairy “is the best safety net in all of agriculture” and that it comes close to equaling the cost of production, at least for smaller farmers.
Of the Conservation Reserve Program, which idles land, he said, “If we keep oversupplying the market it is probably the best and cheapest way to take care of the oversupply and you get benefits of soil health, water quality and wildlife. We are looking at that whole program to see how we can make it better and more affordable.”
On ethanol, Peterson said that President Donald Trump agreed to stop waivers to oil companies only after pressure. Peterson said he is tired of solving problems the administration has created. “We were promised 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol; we are at about 12.5 because of these waivers.”
Of the administration’s proposal to allow gas stations to use E10 pumps for E15, Peterson said, “There are so many issues before it becomes viable,” including rules at the Environmental Protection Agency and state marshals.
On broadband, Peterson said that he and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, have a bill that would change the Universal Service Fund so that the money in it would be used for providing Internet service rather than landlines and that instead of bringing service to “underserved areas” it would serve “unserved areas.”
“If you don’t have high-speed Internet and you are in agriculture, you are in big trouble,” Peterson said.
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