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Milk, sushi and plenty of pork put Peterson in middle of farm bill battles

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As congress picks over the farm bill this week, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota is in the news again as the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, where he has served since he took office in 1991.

And with a vote looming, the Duluth News Tribune looks at what the $955 million farm bill might mean for Northland-area hospitals, for a start.

Minnesota 2020 published a report on Monday and launched a statewide campaign to build awareness of what’s at stake, the Tribune reports. Funding for food stamps, for university research and for rural development programs are all on the line, according to Lee Egerstom, a development fellow for Minnesota 2020, a group that describes itself as “a nonpartisan, progressive think tank.”

Money from the USDA helped built a hospital in Cloquet, and expand Mercy Hospital in Moose Lake, according to Egerstrom. A study from Minnesota 2020 said Minnesota receives between $630 million and $760 million per year in grants, loans and loan guarantees from the USDA’s rural development programs, says the paper.

Meanwhile, the West Central Tribune of Willmar picks up an AP story that approval of the "massive farm bill" -- and the cost of a gallon of milk -- could hinge on a proposed new dairy program the House is expected to vote on this week.

An overhaul of dairy policy and a new insurance program for dairy farmers included in the farm bill have passionately divided farm-state lawmakers, says the AP. "Most importantly, it has caused a rift between House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota."

The proposed dairy program would do away with current price supports and allow farmers to purchase a new kind of insurance that pays out when the gap between the price they receive for milk and their feed costs narrows.

Peterson wrote the proposed dairy policy, which Boehner last year compared to communism, according to AP.

Aside from that, Bloomberg notes that "tucked deep in the 1,198-page U.S. House agriculture policy legislation is an initiative to guarantee prices for sushi rice. So too is insurance for alfalfa and a marketing plan for Christmas trees."

One observer says, “This bill is so bad, it’s so bloated, some things are beyond redemption.”

And Edgerton tells the Duluth paper about different versions from the House and the Senate: “The differences are so profound that you wouldn’t know they were talking about a farm bill for the same country,” he said.

So what's in the bill? The Washington Post can answer that.

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