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Published February 06, 2012, 10:51 AM

Farm bill talks move forward

WASHINGTON — Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told Agweek on Feb. 1 that she will hold four hearings in February and March in anticipation of bringing the farm bill to the floor before the House acts.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told Agweek on Feb. 1 that she will hold four hearings in February and March in anticipation of bringing the farm bill to the floor before the House acts.

Stabenow says she does not know when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would bring it to the floor, but says that she and Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., “want to be able to move it as soon as we can so (House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla.) has the time he needs in the House.”

In an exclusive interview, Stabenow says that the hearing schedule will be:

• Feb. 15 — An overview focused on energy and rural development

• Feb. 29 — Conservation

• Mar. 14 — Healthy food initiatives

• Mar. 21 — Commodities and risk management

Even though the supercommittee on deficit reduction failed to complete its work, Stabenow says the work she and Lucas did preparing the proposal they submitted to it “was a very important process for us, very clarifying.”

“I really feel like we have developed a lot of good work already,” she says. “We developed relationships that are positive. We know where we still need to work.”

The commodity title “is the area where we have the most work to do,” Stabenow acknowledges. Noting that commodity groups are meeting this week to discuss their differences and to try to reach consensus, she says, “I have been urging them to get together.”

“We can’t sustain direct payments with prices high,” she says, but added that it is important to maintain a safety net “because there is nothing more risky than farming.”

“We don’t want any farmer losing the farm because of a few days of bad weather,” she says. “It is not in our security interests as a country.”

Reacting to Lucas’s statements that it would be hard to develop a single program that will work for all commodities, Stabenow says she has heard “loud and clear,” including at the farm bill hearing she held in Lansing, Mich., that crop insurance is “the No. 1 management tool,” but that crop insurance is not available for all crops.

“That is where the challenge comes in,” she says. “I am very confident we can come together on a set of tools.”

She says crop insurance doesn’t work for every commodity.

“What we need is continued input and discussion,” Stabenow says. “I am confident we can come together around an approach that will be effective for all of our growers.”

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