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Dave Olson, Published March 12 2012

Peterson: Farm bill passage likely

FARGO – U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said Monday that he has growing confidence a farm bill will be passed by June.

He said it has taken two years to achieve agreement on some parts of the new farm bill, but added, “Everything is worked out. We don’t have any divisions.”

It appears any approved farm bill will contain about $235 million for water retention projects across the country, Peterson said during a visit with The Forum’s Editorial Board. A large chunk of that, he said, could go toward projects such as the Redpath impoundment project planned near Wheaton, Minn.

The Bois de Sioux Watershed District plan would take water from the Mustinka River, a tributary of Lake Traverse.

Peterson said such projects could potentially reduce the size of a proposed Red River diversion and a controversial reservoir that would be needed as part of a diversion project.

He said retention projects would also provide flood protection until any future diversion is put in place.

If a diversion gets final federal authorization next year, funding will remain an ongoing battle, Peterson said.

“It’s going to be a struggle getting the money. It’s not going to be easy,” he said.

The Redpath water impoundment proposal is similar to the North Ottawa project, which met with opposition when it was being planned but has since won over detractors, Peterson said.

The North Ottawa project, a man-made holding pond east of Breckenridge, Minn., involved the diking of three sections of farmland.

About a half-section of land was set aside for permanent wetlands. The rest is available for storing floodwater, but in dry years it can be used for crops.

“The last three years they actually farmed it,” Peterson said of the North Ottawa project.

Because of that project’s success, the Redpath plan is encountering no major opposition, he said.

In addition to providing money for retention projects, a new farm bill is expected to dramatically alter the federal dairy program.

“It’s the biggest change in dairy in 80 years, but it needs to be done,” Peterson said.

“We’re going to get rid of the price-support system and we’re going to go to margin insurance, so people can buy protection between the cost of feed and the price of milk.

“It’s a much better program, much more market-oriented,” Peterson said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555