Podcast Episode 3

Policy & Personal Experience

With Guest:
  • Collin Peterson, Congressman

Collin Peterson has 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. Jamie has an interesting conversation with Collin on his history, accomplishments and what he sees in the future for agriculture.

Episode 3 | 31:43 min
There is nothing out there that sequesters carbon and does more for the environment than CRP."
— Collin Peterson

Guest Bio

Collin Peterson is an American accountant and politician who served as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 7th congressional district from 1991 to 2021. A member of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, he was chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture from 2019 to 2021 and previously holding the office from 2007 to 2011; he had been ranking member from 2011 to 2019 and 2005 to 2007.

Jamie: 

This is the water table.

Kent: 

A chance to hear the agricultural side of these issues.

Jamie: 

A place for people to go find information and education.

Matt Helmers: 

Water management is just going to become even more critical into the future.

Jamie: 

How miss understood what we do is.

Kent: 

I would encourage people to open their minds and listen to this dialogue.

Jamie: 

Welcome to the water table podcast. We’re excited to have you today. We have a really great guests today. Congressman Collin Peterson from the seventh district of Minnesota is joining us. Congressman Peterson is the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Welcome, Congressman Peterson.

Collin Peterson: 

And glad to be with ya.

Jamie: 

Yeah, it’s really, really an honor to have you and thank you so much. It’s bright and early 7am and you were willing to join us today on the podcast and answer some questions. So just a quick history, Congressman Peterson has been in the seventh district for 30 years. He is a friend to agriculture, a friend to me, and he is because he’s just so darn helpful in what he’s done for agriculture, his knowledge of agriculture. And as many of you probably know, he’s going to be leaving Congress here in January and all of us that have anything to do with agriculture in the upper Midwest really owe him a lot of gratitude for what he’s accomplished. And we just want to talk a little bit today somewhat about basically about agriculture, and then more about water management and his feelings. So congressman Peterson, just thinking about about agriculture and water quality, can you really quantify how important water is to the farm and the profitability and success of the farming?

Collin Peterson: 

Well, that’s a complicated question. Water, lack of water management is why I left the farm. Because of the time. You know, I’ve tried to start farming, we rounded out three times that year, because we didn’t have a way to manage the water. My dad was one of the was started the watershed district, where we were and they were trying to deal with it anyway. You know, back in those days, we were told we couldn’t tile our land. Because it was, you know, clay and so forth and so we were trying to manage it by ditches, and it didn’t work very well. Now, they’re tiling that land. You know, we should have done that 30-40 years ago. You know, it’s hard to make money in farming the way it is and if you’ve got, if you haven’t got a way to manage your water situation, in our part of the world, you know, you’re going to have problems. And so this from that standpoint, from a profitability standpoint, it’s important, but you know, the other people that get involved in our business, you know, they’re all focused on, you know, like nitrates and, you know, run off of fertilizer, and pesticides, and all that kind of stuff that they’re concerned about. Which we should rightly know. We want to, obviously, manage all of that. So we have people getting into, you know, trying to give advice to agriculture, because of that sort of thing with little understood by people, you know, some of these same people that are pushing that stuff are against tiling. And they don’t understand that if you take the water out of the system through tiling, it’s going to be a lot better situation than if you let it run over the top. So we got a lot of education to do with that. But, but it is an issue. And it is you know, and it’s not so much up in my part of the world, but down in southern Minnesota, where the water ends up in the Mississippi, it’s getting to be a bigger, bigger issue. People want to try to do something about it. And you know, they’re all well meaning people, but some of them don’t really understand what they’re doing.

Jamie: 

Yeah, yeah. And I’ve got lots of questions, but let’s just you said so much there. And, you know, even around when you say, hey, if we don’t have tile and the soil profile fills up with water, it’s a really wet spring, whatever, fall, that soil profile fills up with water, the water ends up running over the surface. You’re on the Minnesota side of the Red River Valley so you’ve dealt a lot with the flooding over the last 30 years at different times in the valley. And it’s just one thing that that we have in agriculture have promoted and I know talked with you about you agree that when that soil profile fills up with water, and the water has to run across the surface number one, it creates more erosion, more pollution, but also it floods faster than if if you have tile on the ground where it can store the water in that first 40 feet of soil, you know, above the above the tile. So that’s one thing you just mentioned there, I wanted to highlight.

Collin Peterson: 

People don’t understand. You know, so when we’ve had these floods, some of the folks came in and said, well, the solution is, we have to have more wetlands. And that’s the solution. Well, when we have a flood, generally, it’s been a wet fall, you know, big snow in the winter, wet spring, whatever, those wetlands are full. And there is no way to manage them, there’s no, there’s no way to take them down in the fall, which we frankly, should be doing, so we can retain more of this water. But what happens is everything just goes across the top. And if you want to see the problems, you go out there after that flood is over with, and see the, you know, the big huge erosion that goes across, not only the fields, but it wipes out the roads, you know, and it just goes across country, and you know, we spend millions of dollars trying to replace all of that stuff, every time we have a flood. So as you said, if you can hold this water underground with some structures with your tile, you know, and let that water out on a more controlled basis, you’re gonna have a lot better situation. So, you know, we’ve got this diversion up here that’s being pushed, it’s a $3 billion project. And I’ve been trying to get them to understand that if they took that $3 billion dollars, they could tile the entire Red River Valley. And we

Jamie: 

There’s just too many too many people in that could manage this without all the disruption that’s being done conversation. But we’ll continue to try to educate people on by the by the diversion. that. And then and then the other thing you said in there is just around, you know, chemicals nitrates and, and on this podcast, we’re going to talk about we already did, and in our first episode with Dr. Matt Helmers. Talked about some of

Collin Peterson: 

Yup, I agree that it is. the solutions, but we’ll continue to educate and talk to, to listeners about what the solutions that we’re working on in our industry and potential solutions and, and possibilities are. But the one thing I, why I wanted to mention that too is without proper drainage, you know, it’s a conservation tool lso because you can use less e uipment. You’re farming, piece of property, let’s jus say a quarter section of land, f you don’t have proper dr inage, you’re not you’re no getting the full potential out of that 160 acres, and you’r still running a tractor a ross it to plant and to harvest and to tail, and you’re using d esel fuel your, you know, a l of those things. So it absolut ly is a conservation tool.

Jamie: 

What do you see around if we will continue to drain acres, kind of the same way we we currently do and well how we have the last say 40-50 years? Do you see anything in new practices or that you that you’re aware of from your position in Congress, and what you’re hearing about?

Collin Peterson: 

Well, it remains to be seen, but the new administration that’s coming in, their whole focus is going to be on climate change. And they I don’t know if anybody has seen this climate 21 project transition memo, you can go on the internet and see it. I would encourage people to go and look at that. It’s a little bit pie in the sky. But you know, it’s gonna, it’s gonna drive a lot of things so, you know, the President has put John Kerry in charge of the climate change, and he’s putting people in the administration who are committed to this. And I don’t have any problem with us trying to deal with this, if it’s realistic. And if it’s something that’s doable, and make sense. But some of what they’re talking about is just not going to work if you can’t incorporate it into what’s going on in farming. And you got people that are, you know, that have an ideological point of view that are trying to for this stuff, and they don’t understand how things have happened on the ground, you know. I think you guys have a role in that, if you can get people to understand what’s going on here that you can help manage the situation that would have a positive effect on climate. And that may be something you have to think about in your industry is how can you fit into this new idea, if you will.

Jamie: 

Sure. That was climate 21, you call it?

Peterson: 

Yup, climate 21 project and its a transition memo. It’s about 20-30 pages. It was Robert Bonnie, who was the Undersecretary for conservation. In the last four years of The Obama administration, he’s in charge of that, you know, he’s got a whole bunch of people involved on a group that’s put this together. And, you know, they’ve got so much stuff in there. I mean, if they try to implement everything is done there they will get nothing done. In my head, you know, I am gonna actually talked to him after this podcast this morning. My advice to him is pick a couple of things that will actually have significant impact on climate. Focus on those, you know, and just try to get something done, as opposed to try to take everything in the world that everybody ever thought of and create a big backlash, if you will, you know, and so I don’t know, we’ll see what.

Jamie: 

Well, we’d be happy if you talk to them about water management. Because you know that’s another subject is, you know, proper water management and getting the most out of the best land means you can buffer more land, you can put more land in CRP. And I know, you’ve been a big CRP advocate over the years and, and talk a little bit about that.

Collin Peterson: 

Well, that’s, that’s exactly what I will talk to him about. Why he introduced a bill the other day, that would require the department to enroll 50 million acres in CRP. We’re currently at about 23 million and under the law it allows them to go up to 27 but it does not require it. This bill that I introduced would actually require them to go in in the next five years and enroll 50 million acres. So there is nothing out there that sequesters carbon, and does more for the environment than CRP. You take that warm season cool season grass, and establish it for 10-15 years, it sucks that carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it deep in the ground, which is what people want. And it does it in a way that doesn’t screw up other things, you know, at the end of the day, the CRP land is has been restored. You know, considerably. You know, the organic material and all that sort of thing, so try to get people you know, so they’re focused on CSP, which is okay, you know, and there’s things in CSP that, you know, I think, help like no till, and, you know, that sort of stuff. But there’s only so much you can get out of that. You know, and the other thing I’m going to talk to him about is there’ll be a push by the timber people in the logging industry, they’re going to try to reestablish trees. You know, and all we have to do is look at what happened with hybrid poplars to realize what a bad idea that is. You know, it’s okay to go in and reestablish in your existing forest, but to go out and put trees on farmland creates a hell of a mess.

Jamie: 

Yeah, yeah. Very hard to clean up.

Collin Peterson: 

And, yeah, it takes years to straighten that out if you ever do. So, yeah, I will talk to him about that. But you’re exactly right. If we can make this land 25% more productive, at minimum. And of this land more than 25%. You know, and so that would allow you to, you know, easily hit those 50 million goal. And it does so many other things. And, you know, so you get the climate change stuff, but you get wildlife, you get water quality, you get all those things, you know, and the farmer gets a payment on his land, that you know that he’s not gonna get rich, but he, you know, it pays the taxes and it makes them some money. And it’s good for everybody. I think it’s a win win. And I’m going to talk to him about that, but I’m going to, I’m going to try to talk to him about your situation, because it’s not the folks that are on this climate 21 do not understand your industry.

Jamie: 

Well that and you know, you’ve been said when he talked a little bit there about CSP and you know, one of their practices is no till and you just cannot do many of these practices without proper water management if you’re going to knotel and you get a cold cool wet spring you don’t have the black ground to warm up to plant you’re not getting it done. We just had a we had a guest on our podcast last week from your district, Todd Stanley from Greg Allah who’s a large farmer and and has every one of his acres drained and he mentioned that how you know corn stocks and wheat stubble are really really difficult for planting in the spring if you don’t have proper drainage, they’re just wet all the time. So you know, some of these practices that are well well mean and and are important to do, you got to have other practices such as tile in order to make them work. So you know, talking about some of this stuff with with CRP and it just leads me to the question around, you know, why is it so difficult for us to move to the middle in this discussion and, you know, we got two different sides to this or more than two different sides that are really polarized, and I think about, you know, Ducks Unlimited Pheasants Forever and people like you and I, one of the things that drew us to each other is we both loved to hunt. And we both have some knowledge and love agriculture. So we had some like mindedness, but how do we, in what we know, connect better than what we have with groups like that?

Collin Peterson: 

Well, unfortunately, I think the problem, as I see it, is that you have people involved in some of these groups that think that we’re tiling the way we did 50/60/70 years ago. I mean, I was at a Ducks Unlimited banquet where the guy the regional Ducks Unlimited guy stood up and went on a 20 minute tirade against tiling. You know, and the reason was because the tiling is draining these wetlands. You know, and that’s not true. You know, you can’t tile anywhere close to a wetland. You know, and if you’re going to go through it, you got to put solid pipe in. You know, so it’s not, you know, it’s not like it used to be where you put a drain tile on the bottom of the lowest part of your field, which might be a type one wetland, you know, and you can’t do that anymore. You know, and they don’t understand that. You know, and they’re in an ideological place where all wetlands are good no matter what. And they have to be saved no matter what. You know, and anything that could potentially hurt that wetland is bad. You know, and they don’t understand how this works. You know, they don’t understand pattern tile, and they, you know, they don’t realize that 70 years ago, we didn’t have that. You know, we had totally different situation. And so some of this is just baked into the system, they’ve been taught in school that tiling is bad. You know, and that wetlands are a solution to everything. Well, the case of wetlands if you don’t have structure on those wetlands so you can draw them down, so you can manage them, they’re worthless. A lot of the wetlands up here are completely worthless in terms of wildlife, in terms of holding water, you know, because they’ve, they’re too, there’s too much, they’re too high, and they have grown up with cat tails. You know, because they’re not, they’ve not been managed. You know, and then you’ve got the fish and wildlife and the DNR and these other groups out there buying, what buying land, buying wetlands, you know, and they’re using all of their money to do this. And they don’t have any way to manage them.

Jamie: 

Mmhmm.

Collin Peterson: 

You know, and you can if you go to a fish Wildlife Service, you know, Wildlife Management Area, it’s got a wetland, oh, you couldn’t find a duck if you tried. Yeah, because there’s no, there’s no food there. And if you have a 40 acre plot, every predator in the whole damn county goes to that 40 acres and wipes out anything is in there. But they want a permanent easement or they want to buy the land, tie it up, and this is just a huge mistake. You know, I’ve been trying to preach to these people, but it’s ideology. That’s what screwing up this country. It’s ideology on both sides. And if you’re an ideological thing, you’re probably wrong with whatever you’re doing, you know, it needs to be practical.

Jamie: 

Yep. Yep. And then that’s, I think, what we’re, what we’re sharing here earlier on this CRP discussion is, you know, you’re talking about 50 million acres with the current farming practices, not just drainage, but but there’s lots of advancements in farming, as we all know, and we can feed the world and still have 50 million acres of CRP right now. I don’t know if that’s true in 30 or 40 years, but it’s true right now. So if we could do that now and then and then have that opportunity to take that out or to change that number to higher or lower as technology advances, we should.

Collin Peterson: 

Yeah, well, that’s the thing, 10 years ago, I mean, the amount of increase of production that we’ve had from 10 years ago, is significant. You know, with technology and everything else that we’re doing with drainage, you know. So there’s been a significant advancement in terms of what we’re producing, but the acreage in CRP has gone down. And that’s part of why these crop these crop prices have been in the tank. You know, and all the trade stuff affects that as well. And right now we’ve got a blip you know, where we’ve seen soybeans go up and it’s affecting corn prices but I on’t think that’s going to tay. We got away from, you now, the supply management spects of the farm bill, you now. Which is was good. But as ou say, CRP is a way where you an help manage that supply and o it in a way that also helps a ot of other things. And some armers as well.

Jamie: 

Yeah, yeah. It’s just really interesting your knowledge that you have, and I don’t think I’ve ever asked you about this, but when we talk about, it’s something that I’m super proud of living in rural America and being involved in agriculture is all of the technology advancements that have happened in agriculture over the last, let’s just say, 40 years, but you having a vast knowledge of, you know, living part time in DC and being involved in so many different things. Would you agree with that statement that most of Americans don’t understand how far agriculture has come and how advances become and how these young farmers are using technology at a rate that’s pretty astonishing, even when you when you live out here on the landscape.

Collin Peterson: 

They have no idea. And you’ve got some of these folks, these ideological folks that are actually trying to stop it. You know, that they think it’s a bad thing. You know, and so you’ve got them opposing things for different reasons, GMO. You got people that are against what we’re doing because they’re against big farms. You know, and they think that anybody has more than 100 acres and two pigs in a cow is somehow or another damaging the United States, you know, so. Yeah, it’s amazing what we’ve done with technology. And it’s going to continue, you know, there’s no question about it. And if we don’t have a way, you know, you cannot rely just on trade. You can’t rely on, you know, trade agreements to be able to make sure that you get rid of all of this production, that we’re, you know, we’re doing. We’re feeding a lot of it, you know, and so we have encouraged the livestock industry, and down in Willmar, you know, the turkey industry is a very important thing, and it eats a lot of soybeans. You know, hog industry down in southern Minnesota and, you know, all of that stuff is important. But, you know, the only safety valve we really have is more trade. The problem is that trade is not a branded situation, that trade is commodities. And these people that we’re selling to, you know, the soybeans in Brazil are no different than the soybeans, the United States, and they’re gonna buy based on quality, and price. You know, and whatever’s going on in Brazil they might be able to beat us, you know, and there’s no loyalty here because their soybeans are not a different. What the buyer looks at is this is going to be a reliable supplier in the long term, and we get this set up, and this is going to work over the, you know, well, that was screwed up when we did these trade things where the President went in and did what he did with China causes big problems. And we haven’t gone anywhere back to where we were before with his trade stuff. So, we have to have more than just trade as a safety belt and one of the best ways if you’re going to have to cut back on labs and production, the best way to do it is with CRP. Because you get all the other benefits with it.

Jamie: 

Yup, Yup. I know your time is limited today and just not gonna be able to ask all the questions I had in this really fun discussion. But let’s move to just a couple more here. What do you see as the biggest challenges for agriculture in the coming years?

Collin Peterson: 

You know, we’ve been able to put together farm bills that, you know, are I don’t know if they’re adequate or not, but we’ve been able to make it work. I think what happened this last couple three years with these huge payments that have been made to farmers is going to be a big problem. You know, without those payments, we’d had a lot of people that would lost significant money. You know, those last couple years. And I think, from what I can tell a lot of people expect these payments are going to continue. Which I don’t think they are because there’s no money to do it. You know, and I don’t think administration is going to tap the CCC to make these payments like the current administration has done. And in fact, if you read this climate 21 project, what they want to do is they want to tap the CCC to set up a carbon bank and have the carbon bank funded out of the CCC which has never been done. That’s always been used to support farmers and production agriculture. And all of a sudden they want to change this completely from what it’s been in the past. Well, I don’t and this is one of my discussions I’m going to have a Bonny this morning, I don’t believe they can legally do it. The wording that’s in the CCC language I don’t think allows them to do this. You know, and they’d have to go in and try to change it, which I think could be a monumental task, especially in the setup. So we don’t have baselines. So there’s $90 billion that was spent over the last three years, does not go into our baseline. So that money is not available that can continue it. That’s money that was borrowed out of the CCC, and we still have not paid that back. That would just add it to the national debt, I probably shouldn’t say this. But one of the things that I’ve feel as I’m, as I’m leaving Congress is I may be to some extent glad I’m not going to be there because it’s going to be a difficult situation to try to deal with this. And I don’t know exactly how it’s gonna happen but you’ve got new chairman in both the Senate in the house, you got new ranking member in the house, and the only person that’s been there as Senator Stabenow, who’s been chairman and ranking member in the Senate. But you’ve got new leadership, you got, I think one of the big challenges is going to be going to have a lot of new people on the committee. In our side of the aisle, none of them have any background in agriculture. And most of them don’t have any agriculture in their district. You know, Chairman Scott is from the suburbs of Atlanta. You know, he’s a good guy, and he’s a moderate. But he doesn’t, you know, he grew up on a farm when he was a kid, you know, and down in the south, but he hasn’t had much contact with agriculture directly since. You know, so there’s a lot of advocating, that’s going to have to be done to, you know, to get people up to speed. But I think to come up with a policy that works for agriculture, works for farmers and producers, is going to be a difficult task. And so you need education and you need somebody that’s got more smarts that I have to try to figure out what it is we’re going to do to go forward,

Jamie: 

You probably don’t want to answer this but I have a feeling you’re gonna be somewhere behind the scenes helping with that. So along the way, which would be, which would be great for agriculture if you are. You know, I want to just give you an opportunity, here are one of our final questions. You know, what do you see, I think listeners would like to know, what do you see as your personally your biggest accomplishment in Congress? And what are you most proud of in that time?

Collin Peterson: 

I’ve been able to at the end of my career get the award for the most bipartisan member of Congress. And I leave Congress with as many republican friends as I have democrat friends. And, you know, I’ve been able to deal with, you know, to help my people deal with the flooding that’s gone on with, you know, all the other challenges the hog producers this last year that got hit by the Coronavirus. And so I you know, I’d say, I’ve been able to do some things within the committee, that maybe wouldn’t happen otherwise. I think CRP is probably my biggest legacy in terms of, of, that’s the thing I’ve pushed, and you know, we’ve been successful. So I don’t know, I wouldn’t say there’s any one thing that I would point to. I kind of feel like what I do for my constituents and what I’ve done for them over the 30 years is probably the my biggest accomplishment. And there are just all kinds of things that I made happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise. And most people haven’t even heard about it don’t have any idea that it happened. But it’s had a big impact on the people that we were involved with, you know, it’s like, well, there’s a Northwest angle in Minnesota, where I’ve bailed them out of three or four crisis situations. Whether it’s the smiles act that I got through the house, at the end of the day, I feel the best about that I left Congress with a lot of support from all different aspects. And when I hear from people as they’re sorry I’m leaving, you know, and they all wish me well, you know. One of my guys have left said, you know, I’m leaving Congress, undefeated, and I’m indicted. You know, and that’s a heck of a way to say it, but, you know, we’ve, I’ve done I think I’ve done as good a job as I can representing this district and I feel good about it.

Jamie: 

Yeah. Well, I think I think, you know, the reason why you’ve won so many years in a, in a pretty conservative district is what you just said. You’ve helped a lot, you know, and I know just one of the things down here you’re really integral and like the Renville County Hospital and in Olivia. And different, you know, so many different things and we don’t have time to go into them. But just again, thank you so much for for joining us today. But more than that, for being an advocate for agriculture an advocate for the seventh district of Minnesota, as we part ways here on the Water Table podcast, we like to kind of give you the final word and, and your final thoughts around anything that you’d like to share around water quality and agriculture.

Collin Peterson: 

Well, again, I am a big believer in, in why a tiling you’re using tile to manage water. And I’m going to continue to try to educate people and get my oar in the water to get people to understand that this is not a danger to the environment, it’s actually a big plus for the environment. And we got some work to do with some people to get them to understand that. You know, so there’s a lot of work to do and I will stay involved. And like I say, at eight o’clock, I’m going to go on another call and I’m gonna try to do what I can to educated some people there. But you guys are doing a great job, you know, you guys are on the right side of this issue. And I’m gonna be there to help push it along.

Jamie: 

Well thank you so much for joining us on the Water Table podcast and we’ll talk again soon.

Collin Peterson: 

Okay, thank you, Jamie. Thank you guys.

Jamie: 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. You can also find us at watertablepodcast.com. Thanks for listening.