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Published August 10, 2010, 08:35 AM

Chambliss: Writing farm bill early ‘not practical’

VAIL, Colorado — Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said Aug. 3 that he does not favor writing the next farm bill in 2011, a year before the 2008 bill expires, as House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has proposed.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

VAIL, Colorado — Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said Aug. 3 that he does not favor writing the next farm bill in 2011, a year before the 2008 bill expires, as House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has proposed.

“That’s not practical,” Chambliss said in a videoconference speech to the American Sugar Alliance International Sweetener Symposium in Vail, Colo. Chambliss said he agrees with Peterson on most agricultural matters but that he thinks it is premature to begin writing the next farm bill. The 2008 farm bill extends until Sept. 30, 2012. Peterson has suggested finishing the next bill early so the Obama administration would have time to implement it in 2012.

Chambliss said he is not pleased with the way the Agriculture Department has implemented the payment limits provision of the 2008 farm bill.

“We really fought some tough battles once it got down to USDA,” Chambliss said.

He added that he expects Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., to hold field hearings around the country in 2011 and that he wants to do more oversight of the implementation of the bill.

Chambliss, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Peterson all told the sugar growers they favor extending the current sugar program and that the way it operates with no cost to the taxpayer unless there are forfeitures bodes well for continuation.

“In these difficult budget times, that’s a huge advantage,” Chambliss said.

While most crop producers receive payments from the government, the sugar program forces sweetener users to pay a higher price for sugar.

Peterson also said Aug. 2 he favors moving early on the bill because he fears that the budget pressures will get worse as time goes on. Peterson, who favors simplification of some current programs, said, “We shouldn’t do any new farm programs until we get this deficit headed in the right direction.”

Reforms

Peterson said he favors reforms in all areas of the farm bill, including the supplemental nutrition assistance program that used to be known as food stamps. Peterson said that given the obesity problem, he would favor making it impossible for food stamp beneficiaries to use the program to buy “empty calorie” items.

“They can buy them with their own money,” he said.

Peterson said he also would favor using more data mining to make sure that the food stamp program is run efficiently without fraud and abuse.

His idea to shift from crop insurance on individual crops to a whole farm insurance has not proved popular, and he will not try to force people to move to a whole insurance system, he said.

Peterson concluded that he is more optimistic about the next farm bill process compared with 2008 because then-Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns held hearings in which the traditional farm program was criticized and President Bush vetoed it, requiring an override to make the bill law.

“We don’t have a secretary who is out ginning up opposition, and we don’t have a president who is hostile to the farm bill,” Peterson said.

Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller told the sugar growers Aug. 2 that simply extending the 2008 farm bill would be problematic because farm programs that cost $9 billion will expire with the current bill and will have no baseline. The expiring programs include the permanent disaster program known as SURE, the energy title and some conservation programs.

Miller said he told Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that he did not want to deliver too detailed of a farm bill proposal to Peterson because he would have to “watch him light it on fire.”

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