U.S. House agriculture leader loses election, unsettling Midwest farm sector

P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek
·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Rep. Peterson attends Reuters Global Financial Regulation Summit in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Rep. Peterson attends Reuters Global Financial Regulation Summit in Washington

By P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, House Agriculture Committee chair, failed to win re-election in Minnesota on Tuesday, a loss some agriculture leaders said could hurt the Midwest grain belt.

Though Democrats retained control of the House and therefore will again chair the committee, Peterson's exit could shift U.S. spending away from a region hammered by U.S. President Donald Trump's trade war with China, they said.

Ruling parties take seniority into account when selecting committee chairs, providing an opening for senior House Democrats like Reps. Jim Costa of California, David Scott of Georgia and Marcia Fudge of Ohio to lead the agriculture committee.

Midwest farmers raise pigs and grow the bulk of soybeans and corn in the United States, while California is known for fruit and vegetable crops and southern states like Georgia produce chickens.

For Minnesotans, "the clout that he had on the ag committee is lost to us," said Laura Lemke, executive director of the Minnesota Grain & Feed Association.

The House Agriculture Committee has jurisdiction over a vast range of agriculture and rural issues, including the Farm Bill, renewable energy, disaster assistance, nutrition and crop insurance. The latest Farm Bill, passed once every five years, expires in 2023 and mandates spending of about $428 billion.

Discussion of the bill starts years in advance.

Former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, said Peterson's defeat was "devastating" because he understood intricacies of the legislation. He has long worked with Republicans, who will likely retain control of the Senate.

"Colin knew more about the Farm Bill than anyone else in Congress," Heitkamp said.

Republican Michelle Fischbach beat Peterson and will seek a seat on the committee, her campaign said.

Peterson's next job could be at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Joseph Glauber, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute and a former USDA chief economist.

"I would think that if Biden wins, Peterson would go right to the top of the list for USDA secretary," Glauber said.

Peterson did not respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by PJ Huffstutter and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Marguerita Choy)