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Condition of U.S. economy likely to lead to changes in ag programs

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, left, and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson discuss the economic opportunities of a local foods economy during a break at the Home Grown Economy conference at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

MARSHALL -- U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson warned that agriculture needs to be ready for major changes to farm support programs as the country comes to grip with the current financial situation.

Peterson, chairman of the Agriculture Committee in the House, told an audience Tuesday at the Home Grown Economy conference in Marshall that he would be launching hearings on the farm bill at the end of March, six months earlier than would be the norm.

The congressman said the country's financial situation -- and a $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion federal budget deficit -- will force what he called the "mother of reconciliation" actions to the federal budget.

He said a freeze on federal discretionary spending will not come close to solving the budget concerns.

Nor does he believe the federal budget can be solved by tax cuts alone. "Somebody needs to be honest about this," Peterson said.

He said he believes the tax rate will return from the present 19.5 percent of gross domestic product to 21 percent.

But he also anticipates large cuts, and said that entitlement programs --including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- and farm subsidies will not be immune.

"We're going to have to put everything at the table to get this under control," he said of the country's fiscal woes.

"We in agriculture need to be prepared for that," Peterson said of the likelihood of funding cuts.