Nov 5, 2020
House ag committee chairman Collin Peterson, a leader on 4 farm bills, loses re-election
Zeke Jennings

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), a 15-term member of Congress and the chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture who had a mixed history with organic agriculture, was defeated in the election for Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District.

Republican challenger and former Minnesota Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, with 54% of the vote, won over Peterson, ending a 30-year Congressional tenure for Peterson, 76, a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

Peterson was the two-time House ag committee chairman (2007-11 and 2019-present) and one of the biggest proponents of ag in Congress. He was one of the leaders of the last four U.S. Farm Bills.

As regards organic agriculture, Peterson in 2007 was quoted in a Financial Times article saying he didn’t understand how locally-grown or organic food was selling at such high premiums, but “if people are dumb enough to pay that much then hallelujah.”

However, in the years that followed, he sponsored the Home Grown Economy Conference, at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

“In my role as Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, I’ve emphasized the importance of the growing markets for organic, locally grown and sustainable agriculture as exciting new opportunities in agriculture,” Peterson said in a press release announcing the event in 2009.

Ag-focused super PACs donated significant funds to support Peterson’s 2020 campaign, reported Politico and MinnPost recently.

“Throughout his career, Chairman Peterson has been one of the strongest voices in Congress for American growers and the entire U.S. agriculture community,” said Kam Quarles, CEO, National Potato Council. “During a time of hyper-partisanship, his fair-minded, bipartisan approach to governing has been a breath of fresh air, and, regardless of yesterday’s outcome, he will always be a champion for the potato industry and all of agriculture. He leaves big shoes to fill on the House Agriculture Committee.”

Peterson’s defeat means there will be a new chairman of the ag committee when Congress is sworn in come January. With Democrats maintaining the majority in the House, the next chair will be a Democrat. After Peterson, the longest-tenured Democratic committee members are David Scott of Georgia and Jim Costa of California, both of whom easily won reelection.

Above, Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson speaks at the unveiling of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s official portrait at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. on Thursday Dec. 1, 2016. Photo: USDA/Tom Witham

Michigan journalist Zeke Jennings is a contributing editor of Organic Grower. He also is the managing editor of Spudman and Produce Processing magazines.

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