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Published May 24, 2010, 12:17 PM

Peterson: No payment limits

LUBBOCK, Texas — House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said May 17 in Lubbock, Texas, that he would like to eliminate all limitations on government payments to farmers based on their size of payments or incomes.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

LUBBOCK, Texas — House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said May 17 in Lubbock, Texas, that he would like to eliminate all limitations on government payments to farmers based on their size of payments or incomes.

After a hearing on the 2012 farm bill at which several witnesses complained about the way Congress had written and USDA has implemented the 2008 farm bill’s rules on payment limitations, Peterson told reporters, “I hope we can make changes so we don’t have to have payment limits in the future.”

Peterson said that he is “all for local foods and organic” production and that big farms “should be treated equally” with small farmers in getting payments. Noting that most of the food produced in the United States comes from the 300,000 to 350,000 biggest farms, Peterson said those operations still need a safety net.

“We have wasted so much time on this payment limits thing,” Peterson said. “It’s political correctness run amok. As far as I am concerned, there shouldn’t be any payment limits. I am for any farm that makes economic sense and a safety net that follows (the size of) production.”

Corporate farming

Peterson also took aim at critics of corporate farms.

At the hearing, Brad Heffington, a Lamb County, Texas, farmer, testified on the limitation on the amount of program benefits that can flow through a corporation. Congress has unfairly penalized farmers who use a corporation for legitimate business or estate planning reasons, Peterson said.

“The corporation has been demonized in this country,” by people pushing payment limits. “That’s completely baloney,” Peterson said, adding that when he was a practicing certified public accountant, he had farmer clients who were “family farmers” seeking the best structure for their businesses.

The Environmental Working has complained that the Obama administration’s recent release of farm subsidy data by individual was not as complete as the information the Bush administration released. Congress changed the law to say that USDA could decide whether to aggregate all payments under individual names and the Obama administration chose not to spend the money to do it.

Peterson said, “I have no problem with the way (the Obama administration) has handled it.”

Defining a ‘farmer’

Peterson also proposed changing the definition of a farm in USDA’s Agricultural Census from one that says a “farm” that could produce $1,000 in farm products to a higher level of production. Using that census data, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack could charge that the vast majority of farmers get most of their income off the farm and need more help, but Peterson said he considers that discussion and the payment limits issue “a distraction.”

Some analysts have said that defining a farmer to include those with small production leads to broader political support for the farm program and that basing policy more on the needs of the big farmers would make it harder to pass the bill, but Peterson said, “It’s not about helping farmers but about providing adequate food for the country and the world. If you didn’t have that system, people with deep pockets would end up farming the country. We do not want to lose independent farmers.”

Asked if it is realistic to think that he could write a farm bill without payments limits that Congress would pass, Peterson said, “It’s possible.”

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