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Published March 12, 2012, 11:33 AM

Commodity title taking shape

WASHINGTON — Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said March 7 that she expects to hold a markup on the farm bill “in just a few weeks” after the final committee’s final farm bill hearing on March 14, and that she is making progress convincing farm groups to unify on the proposed commodity title.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said March 7 that she expects to hold a markup on the farm bill “in just a few weeks” after the final committee’s final farm bill hearing on March 14, and that she is making progress convincing farm groups to unify on the proposed commodity title.

After a hearing on nutrition programs, Stabenow told reporters that she won’t “pick a date” for a markup at this time, but that she wants to write the bill as soon as possible. The April spring recess and the Memorial Day recess in late May have both been mentioned as deadlines for the markup.

Stabenow said that the commodity title will include a shallow loss program and “what else is necessary to meet regional concerns.”

She added that the various farm groups that have made different proposals “are getting there” in reaching consensus on a commodity title they could support. She added that she is “optimistic” the committee will produce a program that the farm groups believe is fair.

Stabenow noted that the commodity title will retain the conservation compliance requirements that are in the 2008 farm bill. She said a proposal to make conservation compliance a requirement for crop insurance eligibility would be part of the discussion.

At its convention in Omaha this week, the National Farmers Union endorsed re-establishing the link between conservation compliance and crop insurance. But a congressional aide noted today that “some people seem to have forgotten” that farmers will still have to comply with conservation standards to qualify for commodity title programs.

Stabenow said she is organizing the bill around the assumption that the cut to farm programs will be $23 billion over 10 years. (The House Agriculture Committee signaled the same assumption in its letter to the House Budget Committee on March 7.)

Stabenow said the committee still has to discuss whether the cut would include the $4 billion to nutrition programs that was in the farm bill proposal that the agriculture committees sent to the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction last year.

But Stabenow reaffirmed that she considers a system states use to tie food stamps and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program together so that beneficiaries get a higher food stamp benefit, to be a “loophole” that “some states have been using inappropriately.”

Ellen Vollinger of the Food Research & Action Center said March 7 that anti-hunger advocates will oppose any provision to stop states from tying the two programs together to increase benefit levels. If the states cannot link the two, 675,000 households, many of them composed of elderly people, would see their benefits reduced by about $80 per month, Vollinger said.

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