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Peterson talks ag, House campaign in virtual meet-and-greet

Photo by Deb Gau Rep. Collin Peterson spoke to area residents via videoconference on Friday at the Velde farm in rural Granite Falls. About 50 people attended the event, and took part in a question and answer session with Peterson.

GRANITE FALLS — The weather may have kept him from flying out to Granite Falls, but U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson wasn’t holding back in a virtual meet-and-greet event with area residents on Friday afternoon.

Speaking via videoconference with a group of around 50 people, Peterson talked about how the campaign for the 7th Congressional District was heating up, as well as Thursday’s WCCO Radio debate against Republican challenger Michelle Fischbach.

Peterson criticized Fischbach’s response to how President Donald Trump is handling the COVID-19 pandemic. During the WCCO debate, the two candidates were asked about Trump’s recorded statements to journalist Bob Woodward that he downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic.

“She would not call out the president,” Peterson said Friday. In the debate, Fischbach said that she had not read Woodward’s book, which hasn’t been released yet. Peterson said he hadn’t read the book either, but he did have questions about Trump’s actions.

“If he knew how serious it was . . . Why would he then go out to the American people and say something different?” Peterson said.

Peterson was originally supposed to meet in person with area residents at the Tim and Connie Velde farm in rural Granite Falls. However, rainy weather conditions on Friday affected Peterson’s plans to fly into southwest Minnesota. After getting as far as Benson, “He said visibility was down to about nothing,” Velde said.

Instead, the Velde family set up a TV so Peterson could videoconference and take questions from an audience gathered around the screen.

Peterson told audience members to be prepared for “some really nasty stuff” in campaign ads this fall. So far, Fischbach campaign ads have tried to tie him closely with Rep. Ilhan Omar. However, Peterson said, “I don’t think her and I agree on a single thing.”

Peterson said he’s willing to take a different stance when he believes Democrats are wrong. He said he understood his vote last year against impeaching Trump upset people — but impeachment wasn’t a smart move, he said.

“The impeachment vote helped Trump, it didn’t hurt him,” Peterson said. “He used it as a foil.”

“I’ll keep working as hard as I can” for constituents, Peterson said. “People will just have to take me as I am.”

Most of the questions audience members asked Peterson had to do with problems facing farmers today. One person asked what could be done about the drop in demand for corn for ethanol production.

Peterson said the problem facing ethanol producers was twofold. For one, there was a drop in demand for fuel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The bigger problem is this administration has abused the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Peterson said. Under the Trump administration, there was an increase in waivers for refineries that would normally have to mix renewable fuels like ethanol into petroleum-based fuels. “We’ve got to get these waivers back under control,” he said.

Peterson introduced a bill that would require more transparency in the waiver process in the future. “I’m doing what I can,” he said.

Peterson said another issue he was looking into was the supply chain crisis faced by farmers and meat processors during the pandemic. Outbreaks of COVID-19 shut down large meatpacking plants, leaving farmers with nowhere to process their animals and forcing some to euthanize hogs.

“We found out in this pandemic the hog industry is too efficient,” Peterson said. Spreading out meat processors and producers and protecting workers would help protect the supply chain, he said.

“In the future, we’re going to have to make adjustments.”

“We’ve introduced a bill to encourage smaller packing operations,” he said. Peterson said part of the process of getting more smaller meatpacking plants would be addressing the regulatory hurdles smaller plants face.

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