MINNEAPOLIS — The reelection defeat of U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson in Minnesota and some key retirements mean a shakeup is coming for the industry on Capitol Hill, with power likely to shift from the Midwest to the South and the coasts.
Both the House and Senate agriculture committees will get new chairs, and there will be a new top Republican on the House panel. Observers say the most likely replacements are expected to prioritize Southern crops such as peanuts, rice and cotton over traditional Midwest concerns of corn, soybeans, sugar beets and dairy. That could mean a new emphasis on nutrition programs that serve the poor.
Peterson, a Democrat who lost his bid for a 16th term, was a major force in shaping several farm bills and a strong advocate for Midwestern agriculture in a House where the ranks of rural Democrats have been shrinking. He was known for working across the aisle, and he had Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ear.
“I don’t think you can in any way exaggerate the magnitude of the loss for agriculture,” said former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat whose name is in the mix as a potential agriculture secretary under President-elect Joe Biden. It will be hard to replace his institutional knowledge and his ability to win over liberals to deliver farm bills that work for Midwest agriculture, she said.
Peterson lost to Republican Michelle Fischbach, a former lieutenant governor and state senator. Fischbach plans to seek a seat on the Agriculture Committee, but she’ll have to draw heavily on her legislative skills to have much of an influence as a freshman in the minority party.
Peterson’s name has been discussed within the farm policy world as a potential appointee to a ranking post in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, maybe even as secretary.