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House ag chief: ‘We have been divided more than together’

By Julie Sherwood, staff writer |

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Rikki Van Camp Messenger Post
Reps. Eric Massa, D-Corning, and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., speak at the the 29th Congressional District Agricultural Summit Wednesday at the New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua. morning at the Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua. Rikki Van Camp
Canandaigua, N.Y. — Dairy prices, immigration and organic farming were among the concerns discussed Wednesday during an agricultural summit at the New York Wine & Culinary Center.

The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., spent about an hour fielding questions during the event, which was open to Farm Bureau members.

The event was one of several stops Peterson made as he met with farmers across the region, escorted by fellow Agriculture Committee member U.S. Rep. Eric Massa, D-Corning.

Peterson said the farming industry faces major obstacles in addressing issues such as record low milk prices paid to farmers, immigrant labor, and managing government regulations. Because methods and the cost of farming vary greatly in different regions of the nation, it is nearly impossible to agree on legislation that pleases everyone, he said.

“We have been divided more than together,” Peterson said.

Another problem: 80 percent of House members represent urban and suburban districts, he said. “They don’t have agriculture and they don’t know what you do and they don’t care,” said Peterson, who has been in the House since 1990. What they do know, he said, is that “they go to the store and everything is fine.”

Peterson blamed dairy farmers, as a group, for being part of the problem. Dairy farmers are divided on what they want in terms of legislation and policies, he said. Peterson said in his district, farmers producing cane sugar and beet sugar are often “fighting behind the scenes” about what they want.

“But when we go to Congress we are united and we get our way,” he said. “You don’t have that in dairy.”

Kate Mendenhall of Rochester, executive director of Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York Inc., said she was relieved to hear Peterson has a plan for helping organic farms manage costs.

But some in the crowd, which included farmers from all over the 29th Congressional District — which includes the Southern Tier, Yates County, parts of Monroe County and most of Ontario County —  weren’t upbeat about what Peterson had to say.

“He beat around the bush,” said Terry Waters, a dairy farmer from Jasper, Steuben County. He attended with his sister, Sue Flint, also a dairy farmer. She and her brother said they didn’t hear Peterson offer any concrete solutions to problems such as low milk prices.

“There is no short-term fix,” said Nate Wilson, a dairy farmer from Sinclairville, Chautauqua County. He had hoped to hear Peterson say he would support temporary federal aid to dairy farmers to help them get over the hump.

As for the current financial climate for dairy farmers, “In 39 years, I have never seen anything like it,” Wilson said.

Later Wednesday, Peterson visited the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Plant Materials Center in Big Flats, Chemung County, to discuss bio-fuels and the future of energy in the United States.
Peterson said the country can potentially produce 30 percent of its liquid fuel by utilizing bio-fuels, such as ethanol.

“This is one of the ways we are going to get off of foreign oil,” he said. “That’s what we’re talking about here.”

Massa said 30 percent would be a “virtual complete replacement” of this country’s dependency on foreign oil.

“Let’s not lose sight of what we’re about here,” Massa said.

Focusing on bio-fuels will also spur economic activity, Massa said.
“The future of sustainable alternative bio-mass energy means a future of increased jobs and employment in this area,” Massa said. “It is a potential tremendous influx of economic activity, not only to this congressional district but the entire western New York state area.”
— John Zick of the Corning Leader contributed to this story.


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