Peterson unsure about Congress agreeing on new farm bill

By Janet Kubat Willette

CLARISSA, Minn. — A tired Collin Peterson told members of Minnesota Milk that he doesn’t know if Congress will be able to agree on a new farm bill by April 18.

Lawmakers extended the 2002 farm bill to April 18 after failing to meet a March 15 deadline to have the bill completed.

Minnesota Milk Producers Association president Pat Lunemann of Clarissa and vice president Greg Jans of Grove City along with MMPA executive director Bob Lefebvre met with Peterson and other lawmakers or their aides during a quick trip to Washington April 1-2.


"The progress on the farm bill is not good," Lunemann said. Peterson, D-Minn., told them fractions of lawmakers are tugging the bill this way and that in an attempt to gain more money for their areas of concern while the administration says the bill is too expensive.

"He looked so tired," Lunemann said of Peterson.

Peterson, chairman of the House agriculture committee, led development of the House farm bill, which passed July 27, 2007. Since then, he has been working and waiting. The Senate passed their version of the farm bill Dec. 14. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairs the Senate agriculture committee.

Harkin and Peterson are co-chairs of the conference committee that is trying to resolve issues within the committee while working with the administration to be sure the bill isn’t vetoed.

All the lawmakers they talked to didn’t want to extend the farm bill further, Lunemann said, and it isn’t realistic to revert to 1949 permanent law.

The trio also discussed bovine tuberculosis erradication efforts, asking that USDA move forward with a split-state status for Minnesota and that Congress provide more funding for TB testing and that those dollars be targetted to the northwest part of the state where TB has been found in 11 beef herds.

On April 2, USDA made $16.8 million available in emergency funding for bovine TB erradication efforts in Minnesota, Michigan and California. The money will be used to depopulate known TB-affected cattle herds, according to a news release from Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

The Minnesota dairy farmers also asked lawmakers to support Johne’s disease testing funds, as federal funds for testing have dried up.


They also discussed labor force issues, Lunemann said. It’s getting increasingly difficult to find quality dairy farm laborers at dairy farms of all sizes.

They met with dairy producers from other states and the consensus was that Congress needs to revise, modify and pass an ag jobs bill that allows guest workers to enter the United States. There is no provision in federal law that allows a dairy guest worker program, he said.

Walking between meetings, they were able to enjoy the cherry trees in blossom and 70-degree weather, Lunemann said. It was quite a constrast from home. When he drove to the airport April 1, he could hardly see through the blowing snow.

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