SANTA ROSA, Texas, October 17, 2006 – If Democrats win control of the U.S. House after the November elections, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is set to become chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

Peterson is on a fact-finding tour of the Rio Grande Valley right now, on a trip arranged by U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. Peterson is visiting Santa Rosa, Mercedes, and Weslaco, and has already met with sugar cane, citrus, and cotton and grain growers, as well as irrigators, bankers, and insurance agents.

“I have seen Congressman Peterson a couple of times before and I think it is significant that he has come down to the Valley,” said Ray Prewett, president of Texas Citrus Mutual and executive vice president of the Texas Vegetable Association.

“I think that should the Democrats win, he would be a good Agriculture Committee chairman.”

Peterson grew up on a farm in Baker, Minnesota. He has been a member of Congress since 1990 and is the ranking member on the Agriculture Committee. In the past, the National Farmers Union has awarded him the Golden Triangle Award.

Prewett said Peterson has told Valley farmers that he would introduce emergency disaster assistance legislation during the lame duck session after the November elections. Farmers would be able to choose whether they want assistance for 2005 or 2006.

“I know we have had a lot of rain just recently but before that the drought was very serious. We lost a lot of cotton and grain in the Valley,” Prewett added.

Hinojosa said the multi-year drought throughout several parts of Texas had resulted in losses totaling more than $1 billion. Already, 2006 has seen one of the worst droughts on record resulting in crop losses of $2.5 billion, and $1.6 billion in livestock losses. Cotton losses alone amount to $1 billion; and the smallest wheat crops were harvested since 1925 and production was its lowest since 1971.

Hinojosa said agriculture disaster assistance had to be considered by the House as a matter of urgency.

“Farming and ranching are the engines driving our economy and now is the time to debate legislation that is comprehensive and will directly address the losses suffered from natural disasters,” Hinojosa said.

“Problems affecting our farmers and ranchers should be addressed immediately. Providing this assistance makes sense and will strengthen rural communities and our nation’s economy.”

Hinojosa noted that 80 percent of all U.S. counties were declared primary or contiguous disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2005. The figure for 2006 was 70 percent.

Hinojosa held a town hall meeting with Peterson and Valley farmers and ranchers at the Texas A&M Agricultural Research & Extension Center in Weslaco. Hinojosa said the town hall meeting provided a great opportunity to hear directly from farmers and ranchers about drought conditions, the Farm Bill, agriculture disaster assistance, and the state of the agriculture economy in South Texas.