Ag student interns on Hill, works on farm bill with U.S. Rep. Peterson

by Allison Wickler

Most University students are far removed from political debate in Washington, D.C., but one University sophomore is right in the thick of things.

Lucas Sjostrom, an agricultural education sophomore who grew up on a dairy farm in southern Minnesota, is interning for Minnesota U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson this semester.

Peterson is the chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, a group that has the ability to create change on the very farms Sjostrom knows.

The 2002 Farm Bill, which in part controls funding for agriculture programs, expires this year, and Sjostrom will watch as the legislature attempts to renew a version of the bill.

“I figured it was just the perfect time to come for a kid like me who wants the ultimate experience,” he said of his time in Washington, D.C. “This won’t happen for another five years.”

Between researching, sitting in committee meetings and meeting agriculture officials, he said he is learning about new agriculture issues, such as a mandatory identification system for livestock to trace disease outbreaks.

Issues being discussed for the 2007 bill, especially renewable energy and subsidies for farmers, could have significant effects on agriculture in Minnesota, he said.

Applied economics professor Kent Olson said the 2002 bill focused a lot on price protection for farmers, with a large portion of the budget going toward nutrition programs.

With the current deficit, he said there probably won’t be additional funding for the 2007 bill, so balancing existing funding among farmers’ income protection, energy and the environment could become an issue.

Olson said it will be interesting to see if having Midwesterners as chairs of both the House and Senate agriculture committees will affect the new bill’s priorities. Historically, the chairs have been from the South.

Sjostrom, who wants to work as a lawyer for farmers or agricultural corporations, said he has seen the challenges of policy-making firsthand – while agricultural politics seem to be less partisan, divisions still exist among different regions and commodities.

The House agriculture committee internship not only exposes students to policy, but it lets them intern in their specific area of interest in agriculture, said Heather Fredrickson, a career professional at the St. Paul Campus Career Center.

She said for a student going into an agriculture profession, “It’s a 10-out-of-10 as far as alignment and benefit.”

Despite the heightened security and more expensive living, Sjostrom said his experience has been worth it.

“It’s got to be one of the most unique places in the world,” he said. “It’s a good place to be as a college kid who doesn’t want to get bored.”