Podcast Episode 28

The Midwest Council on Agriculture

With Guest:
  • Collin Peterson, Former US Congressman

Former US Congressman Collin Peterson joins Jamie to talk about The Midwest Council on Agriculture. The council is a new organization that is advocating for strong agriculture and economic policy promoting the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry in the Midwest region.

Episode 28 | 29 min

Guest Bio

Collin Peterson represented the 7th congressional district of MN for 30 years and has served on the House Committee on Agriculture for 15 years, most recently as Chairman. As a strong advocate for agriculture in the US House of Representatives, the Congressman has left his mark on agriculture. Collin is currently advocating for agriculture through his work with The Midwest Council on Agriculture.

Jamie Duininck (00:02):
This is the water table.

Kent R. (00:05):
The chance to hear the agricultural side of these issues.

Jamie Duininck (00:09):
The place for people to go find information and education.

Matt H. (00:13):
Water management. Which is going to become even more critical into the future.

Jamie Duininck (00:17):
How misunderstood what we do is.

Kent R. (00:17):
I would encourage people to open their minds and listen to this dialogue.

Jamie Duininck (00:37):
Welcome to the water table podcasts. Today, backed by popular demand. I have Congressman Colin Peterson with us. Congressman you left office back in January. And I know you’ve been working hard. But why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about what you’ve been up to here, the last eight, nine months?

Collin Peterson (00:57):
Well, I’m not sure I’m working hard. I’m working part-time kind of. And I’ve been doing some consulting work. With some of the different farm groups that I worked with over the years. And they, I guess, they liked to have my insight on what’s going on within the process. And different folks that are involved and so forth. So I’ve been working on that. And on the other thing, the folks I’ve been working with are, some of them, in Minnesota. But some of them are in Southwest United States. And down there they created a Southwest Council Agribusiness. And prior to that, there was a Delta Council over by Mississippi. Both of which have been very successful. In terms of having a big influence in Washington, not only in Congress, but with the administration. And so, we’re in the process of setting up a Midwest Council on agriculture, which would include Minnesota, North, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.

Collin Peterson (02:14):
And we’ve made pretty good progress. We set up a 501c6, which allows you to, which is a kind of a nonprofit, that allows you to advocate for agriculture. And also to influence legislation and the administration. So, the process of setting that up, we’ve set up this non-profit corporation. We’ve got about, so far, 25, 30 businesses signed up. So this is going to be primarily driven by agriculture businesses. Folks that primarily depend on agriculture for their business. So we have seed dealers, we have John Deere dealers, and we have farm credit. We have bankers. We have hog operations.

Collin Peterson (03:14):
That’s in all plants. And we’re adding folks every day, as we go along here. We’re hoping to have, 75 to a hundred members, signed up by the end of the year. And we also, at some point will be bringing in some of the commodity groups. We haven’t done that to start with. Because they have their own operations, but they will be part of this. And they will have input into this. And this operation will not interfere with what they’re doing. So, they do a good job representing their particular commodities, whether it be sugar beets, or corn, or wheat or soybeans, dairy, whatever it is. But, they end up having a singular focus. And when you go in and talk to members of Congress, especially the ones that don’t have a lot of Ag background. When they hear 10 different things, from 10 different groups of farmers. I don’t think it necessarily is a good situation.

Collin Peterson (04:25):
So, what we’re going to try to do. Is to come up with 10 or 15 most important issues, that are relevant under the current timing, to the Midwest. And so that’s what they’ve done in these other areas. And as I said, having a regional focus and having a bigger audience than just one state, said delegation, seems to have a lot more influence on what the final outcome is. So in addition to that, we’re going to also. We’ve been talking to the land grand universities in these states. And we’re going to put a consortium, put them, there’ll be a part of this. And we’re going to get them working together. So that we’re not duplicating requests for research, or what ever we’re doing. That’s not as fully fleshed out at this point. But I’ve talked to them. And there’s a lot of interest on their part to do this.

Collin Peterson (05:28):
They’ve all had a tough time accessing research money. Partly because they’re kind of competing against each other. So, we’re going to work on that. And just warning, yesterday on the Fargo paper, there was a story and I haven’t had time to talk to NDSU. But there was a story with the wine growers in North Dakota. That are not happy with NDSU, because they don’t think that they’ve been given the priority, from them. On developing a winter hardy grape, for their vineyards. And they’ve got like 17 vineyards in North Dakota. Which are not a lot, but they’re required. They know they need a winter hardy variety to make it work. Well, Minnesota has already done a whole bunch of work on this. And they have developed winter hardy varieties. That I’ve seen them growing up as far as [inaudible 00:06:26] .

Collin Peterson (06:28):
So, this is a case, or probably we can help make sure that the work that we’ve done in Minnesota, can be done beyond it. Doesn’t have to be stopped at the state it’s at. So there’s a lot of things we can do. Trying to facilitate the resources that we have amongst everybody and utilize them better. The other thing they’ve done in these councils in the south. Is that, they’ve provided a conduit for young people that are interested in agriculture. To get into kind of the policy area. And so they’ve facilitated internships, not only with Congress, but with big Agribusinesses, with local Agribusinesses, with the colleges. And we have not had that kind of emphasis in the Midwest. And I think that short changed us. If you go over to USDA, you’re going to find out that they have the Mississippi Mafia. That controls a lot of the USPA and it’s because of the Delta Council. And what they’ve done over the last, actually 90 years, in that case.

Collin Peterson (07:41):
And now the Southwest Council working with Texas ANM and Texas TEKS, have also been able to place a lot of people. And we just haven’t made that kind of priority here in the Midwest. So it’s a combination of all these things. I think people see the need to work together, to have a collaboration, to be more successful. And it also gives me a platform. To be able to continue to use the expertise and credibility. That I have with my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to an advantage for the Midwest. Because we are lacking, in the house, a lot of representation on the Ag Committee. Or we have Angie Craig and Cindy Axne. And we have Dusty Johnson over in North Dakota and South Dakota. But that’s about it. We just don’t have the representation on the Ag Committee in the Midwest. And of course the chairmanship went from Minnesota to Georgia, and that’s diluted our influence. So, it’s a combination of all these things that we think will be very positive. We get this council up and running.

Jamie Duininck (08:54):
Sure. And let’s talk a little bit about that around your influence. I think that’s pretty obvious. I think listeners and in the general public could understand. All the years that you’ve spent decades in Congress and your knowledge of agriculture, that would be helpful to do something like this. But probably what people don’t understand is the shift that’s taken place. And the representation for the Ag community and how that’s shifted between, the Republicans and the Democrats. And can you talk at all about that? And how, because of your influence in the Democratic party, that can be helpful. As there’s much fewer Democrats that have been elected in agricultural districts.

Collin Peterson (09:46):
Yeah. That’s a big problem for agriculture. And I’ve said this at a number of my speeches. Probably the biggest challenge that agriculture has, at this point. Is that there are hardly any Democrats in the farm districts anymore. And I was the last one that had the last Democrat. That had a solid total farm district. So now the Democrats we have, are Angie Craig, who has four rural townships. But most of her population is in the Southern twin cities and the suburbs. You have Cindy Axne, whose main population is De Moines. But she has six counties to the Southwest. And on the Democratic side, not only do we have only seven permanent members, out of 29. Because the people wanted the Ag Committee as their primary committee. The other ones are grafted to be on the committee, because there weren’t enough people taking the seats.

Collin Peterson (10:53):
So that, shows you the problem. And the reason this is a problem, is that you cannot get anything done, on any permanent basis. Or even in any sensible way with one party. It does not work. So, we run the risk of having one party going this direction. And then when the majority of switchers, you have the other party command, go in the other direction. And you end up not accomplishing anything, when that kind of a situation. So we’ve got to, we’ve always been bipartisan. We were always bipartisan on the committee. We always found a way to work together and share the responsibility. That is kind of broken down somewhat already. And when I left, the chairman, I helped him get his position. And so he said,” I’m going to rely on you for advice,” which he’s been doing.

Collin Peterson (11:55):
I’ve also got him to agree, to keep my entire staff, which he did. And that’s all helpful. But at the end of the day, you’ve got a very different make up on the Democratic side of the committee. They’re all good people. And they all I think are wanting to do the right thing. And they all want to be helpful to agriculture, but they have very different ideas about what that is. And so you have California folks on there, you have people that are interested in small scale agriculture. You have members on there that are interested in urban agriculture. You have Bobby Rush from south side of Chicago. You have Raul Cana from California, who’s one of the leaders of the Progressive Concept. So, you have a very different make up. And these folks when you lobby them with the traditional commodity groups, they’re probably not going to be as understanding. Because I don’t think they have the background to understand the kind of agriculture that we have in the Midwest.

Collin Peterson (13:08):
And so that’s part of what we’re trying to do here. But the other thing that I bring to the table is, I also probably have as good a relationship with the Republicans, as I do with the Democrats. And so I hope that I’ll be able to be a force to make sure that they don’t continue to be divided and that we figure out a way to come together. Because, the Farm Bill is coming up in 2023. And it’s gotten harder every time to do a Farm Bill. And this time is probably going to be the hardest one that we have yet. And so, I think it’s going to be important to be engaged on this. At the end I could have retired. I don’t need to work, necessarily. But I just felt like I had something to offer. I had a lot of people coming to me saying and asking me to stay involved. And so, I am doing that. And this Midwest Council, I think, will be for us. A very important vehicle.

Collin Peterson (14:06):
To help make that happen in the future.

Jamie Duininck (14:09):
Yeah. And let’s talk a little bit about issues. You’ve mentioned some of the commodity groups or the commodity groups that we may pull in to the Midwest Council, in the future. But that they usually have their specific and singular issues. What are just some of the top issues you see that this council’s working on? That would have across the board, across the six state landscape buy-in, from members?

Collin Peterson (14:41):
Well, it’s going to change from year to year. And from time to time. It’s going to depend on what is being, what is surface, what are the issues being talked about? So forth. So it’s not going to be a constant thing. I think it probably could change from year to year. So right now, things are fairly quiet. You’ve got the Democrats pushing this build better, back-to-back, better bill, or what ever it is. That’s got a huge amount of spending. And it’s come clear exactly, where that’s going to end up, but I think they will pass something. And it will be probably significant, less money than they originally sought. But they also have the Infrastructure Bill. So in the Infrastructure Bill, is a huge amount of money, billions, 600 and some billion dollars, for broadband. And that’s something that’s very much needed.

Collin Peterson (15:45):
So that’s, I think something we can work together across our six states. Because we all kind of have the same issues in that regard. So, I think broadband would be one of the things that we could work on. Another thing is tax policy. We’ve already weighed in on that. I’ve gotten a couple of op-eds opposing this idea. That was floated by some Democrats to get rid of a stepped up basis, on the estate tax. And that appears to have been successful because that has been dropped now out of the mix. There’s still some concern about what’s going on in the Senate. But I think the stepped up basis issue, is pretty much a dead issue, for right now. And that’s partly because we weighed in on that. So a tax policy could be part of it. Another thing that’s important for the Midwest is the ethanol industry and the biodiesel industry.

Collin Peterson (16:39):
And we’ve had real challenges because of the waivers that were given out by the previous administration. And really undermine the marketplace for those fuels. And we’re waiting for the first iteration of this with this administration. They haven’t come out with what the levels are going to be for 21 and 22. But that’s something that I think that we, all of us, can work together on because we have nothing at all. And all of the states that are in the Midwest Council. And we probably have the most ethanol concentrated in the Midwest of any place in the country. And so this is something we can work together on. We have a robust livestock industry in the Midwest, whether it be cattle, or turkeys, or hogs, or chickens, or pork. And those different commodity groups meet in processing groups, have the same kind of issues.

Collin Peterson (17:49):
And that’s something we can work on, to try to avoid. And another problem, like we saw break during the pandemic, when we had to some of the processing plants shut down. We can work with the administration to get more processing facilities built. Which was a very important thing for us in the Midwest. And our needs are different than say Texas, or California, or North Carolina. And so, I think there’s many ways that we can work across the spectrum. And the other thing is that I have always felt that there was really no reason, that there should be a dispute between ethanol and livestock. I think that can be worked out. I think that really between ethanol and oil refinery is going to be worked out. I think in the Midwest, we can do it. When you get to the national level, you’ve got all kinds of other things pulling and pushing, and so forth.

Collin Peterson (18:55):
But I think we can maybe come with a solution in some of those areas where we can work this out amongst ourselves. And maybe we can be the catalyst to get this resolved at the national level. So, there’s a number of issues where we’re going to work across the spectrum. And we’re not going to go in and undermine any of the commodity groups. We’re going to support what they’re doing. We’re going to help them and hopefully not be any kind of problem for them. But there’s just some things that are not really getting focused on, like they should. And we’re going to try to work on those.

Jamie Duininck (19:36):
Sure, sure. A lot of interesting stuff and a lot of, I think, opportunities for us in the Midwest. To gain from what you’re doing, your knowledge, your team, that you’re putting together. So pretty exciting. And one thing you mentioned earlier too, was just around that. I think people forget. And is around the young people. And bringing avenues for young people to get involved in, the policy side of agriculture. And I’ve been around for 20 years now. Bumping in and out of Washington, once in a while, talking to people like you. And it’s pretty amazing when you have that kind of timeframe of seeing the people that do come from the south and make a career out of it.

Jamie Duininck (20:26):
And how they are in some important influential positions now, in Washington. And know a lot of those, as you mentioned, are Texas ANM. And I think we can do the same thing to help influence. Help educate a young people that, there is opportunities. And then they give them the pathway to those opportunities. Through Iowa state in Minnesota and North Dakota state, South Dakota state, places like that. Where there is a good solid Ag programs.

Collin Peterson (20:55):
Yeah. And these universities have got a challenge. Trying to get their leadership, to understand the importance of agriculture. And some universities are better than others, in this regard.

Collin Peterson (21:11):
But, there has not been the emphasis on getting our young people into the policy arena. And when I was chairman, when I first became chairman in 2007. So, I went to my chief of staff and I said, I want to really try to ramp up ability for our young people. To get involved in the process, to be interns, to help them not only on the committee, but with USDA and with some of the Ag companies, and so forth. And frankly, it was a difficult situation trying to find candidates. Because there was really no process, set up to do that. And frankly, there isn’t until this day, in the Midwest. But in the case of Texas ANM.

Collin Peterson (22:02):
So, when I was looking for interns, they had 50 interns lined up, ready to go. And I had trouble finding two or three, from the Midwest. And so what ends up happening is that they fill a lot of these slots. And then a lot of those folks you end up staying in DC, in the policy arena. Whether it be a department or committee, or some of them might be with some of the big Ag companies. And we just haven’t had that same situation. So I want to. I don’t know if I’d say, I don’t know if I want Minnesota mafia. But I want to have a Midwest mafia. That 30 years, from now, they can talk about all the influence that we’ve had. Because we’ve got our young, bright, young people involved in the process.

Collin Peterson (22:55):
And Katie Zinke, who’s from Minnesota. This is probably the star of my Ag staff. She is now moved over to work in the administration. And she’s really moved up the ladder. And she’s an expert on these processing, and media issues, and so forth. And she’s just doing an outstanding job. And she shows you that these Minnesota kids have the ability to really shine, if you give them a chance. And that’s what we’re going to try to do.

Jamie Duininck (23:34):
Yep. And I think it even becomes more important going forward. As you go back to the issues that are there with, people representing Congress, men, and women representing districts. Where they don’t really have the knowledge of agriculture. So we’re going to have to get some of that knowledge from young people. That are willing to after college, move to Washington, and be part of the policy.

Collin Peterson (24:03):
Yeah. And we have good people, especially in the Senate, representing us in DC. But they’re going to benefit. If we’ve got a strong presence with six states that have come together, that’s going to help them do their job. Not only in the Senate, but in the house. And so that’s part of what we’re going to bring to the table. We’ll bring some strength. And, I think they will see this as a benefit to them to be able to rely on us. And in the Senate, it’s bipartisan, you’ve got Klobuchar, Smith, you got Hoeven in North Dakota, you got John Dewan and Rallin’s in South Dakota. You got Grassley in Iowa, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin. So you have a very bipartisan group in the Senate.

Collin Peterson (25:02):
Most of them are on the Ag Committee. So, giving them the ammunition will be helpful. Like I said, it’s more, we don’t have the numbers or the seniority on the house side, that we used to have. And so that’ll be a bigger challenge, but as I said, I’ve got good relationships. And I think I can make a difference in there in the house and what happens.

Jamie Duininck (25:28):
Yeah. Well, we’re all thankful and grateful that you’re willing to take your knowledge and expertise. And make a difference for us here in rural America. So, thank you for taking my call today, Congressman. And for listeners too, you can want to learn more on Midwest Council on agriculture. You can look them up on the web@midwestcouncil.org. And starting 2022, I’m sure you’re going to hear more and see more of them. And so we’re excited and thankful that you’re willing to take time out of your retirement, to stay engaged. Appreciate it.

Collin Peterson (26:08):
Well, thank you, Jamie. And thank you for what you do for agriculture. Sometimes, people don’t understand how important some of these other aspects are, to making agriculture successful. Like tiling, tiling or drainage management, I don’t know what you call it, I call it tiling. But how important that is, and especially in the Midwest. Also, irrigation which is kind of centered in Nebraska in terms of the manufacturing assault. So we’re going to have all of those aspects in, solved with this, as well, as long crop insurance. Just kind of every aspect of agriculture, is going to be involved in this. And we’re excited about where this goes.

Jamie Duininck (26:59):
Yeah. One of the things we didn’t talk about, but that I think touches all aspects of the six states. Is going to be the water of the United States. And if that comes back around, it’s going to have to be part of what we talk about. To make sure that agriculture is represented and understood, in that. Because if you’re not managing the water on your farm, you got challenges. So.

Collin Peterson (27:23):
Yeah. That’s why I ended up in a different career than farming. Because when I tried to farm, the first year, I went out and tried the farm. There was no crop insurance. And we drowned out, three times. And that put me in a situation, where I kind of decided to go to college. And so I probably wouldn’t have done what I’ve done. If I would’ve not had that weather problem, in those days. They told us down in the valley, we couldn’t tile. Because of the clay underneath, and so forth. Which is not true, but we didn’t know. And so it’s just, there’s all these different aspects that make it work. And we’re going to try to include all of those and this council. And the water of the U.S. The way that was proposed would be a disaster. Just was taken off the table. But now there are some rumblings that people might be trying to put it back on. So, definitely that’s something else we really have to keep our eye out.

Jamie Duininck (28:30):
Yep. Yep. For sure. Well, thank you for your time. And we’ll continue to reach out to you every now and again. On how it’s going with the Midwest Council on agriculture.

Collin Peterson (28:43):
Well, great. Thank you, Jeremy. Thank all the people in agriculture for the great job they do. We’re proud of them.

Jamie Duininck (28:50):
Yeah. I appreciate your time.

Collin Peterson (28:52):
Thanks Jeremy. Bye.

Speaker 3 (28:59):
If you enjoy what you’re listening to. You can find us on your favorite podcast platform. You can find us on Twitter or Facebook. And you can also find us@watertablepodcast.com. Thanks for listening.

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