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Published November 25, 2013, 01:10 PM

Hoeven: Elements for farm bill agreement in place

The elements for a farm bill compromise between the House and the Senate are there if the four principal negotiators want to reach agreement, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said at the organization’s meeting on Nov. 25.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

MINOT, N.D. — The elements for a farm bill compromise between the House and the Senate are there if the four principal negotiators want to reach agreement, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said at the organization’s meeting on Nov. 25.

“The elements are there. It comes down to getting people to agree,” Hoeven said in a speech to the North Dakota Farmers Union.

“We did not get a farm bill last year,” he said, his voice rising. “We ended up with an extension. We do not want to do that again.”

Amidst applause, Hoeven, a Republican who was speaking to the Democratic-leaning Farmers Union, added that he is trying to make that point in Washington also. About 700 people attended the meeting.

Hoeven said he believes that if the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate agriculture committees reach agreement, the House could take the bill to the floor before that chamber leaves on Dec. 13 and that the Senate could take up the bill before it goes out of session on Dec. 20.

But he also said in an interview he believes that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who took her bill to the floor before the House took up its bill, would like to go first.

If Congress does not pass the bill in December, Hoeven said, it could still be passed in early January, but he worries about taking it up then because Congress will be trying to finish a budget deal and finish appropriations for the rest of fiscal 2014. In addition, he noted, as time goes on the bill would be subject to be rescoring, which could complicate its development.

Hoeven said he considers the Senate commodity title a good package because it “stretched” crop insurance so that farmers could sign up for better coverage, the program of “shallow loss” payments and a small countercyclical package. But he added that senators knew that the House would want to focus on the countercyclical program based on target or reference prices.

The big issue now is whether payments will be based on historic acreage or current plantings up to base acreage, Hoeven said, adding that farmers may end up with a choice. He said the conferees are likely to consider several proposals on base acreage, including the one proposed last week by the corn, soy and canola growers that involved a rolling average of recent years’ acreage.

The bill will contain a livestock indemnity program, Hoeven said, adding that he prefers the House bill because it would allow payments on 75 percent of losses rather than the 65 percent in the Senate bill.

“It’s really important for the South Dakota producers,” who experienced a blizzard this fall, he noted.

“The sugar program is an absolute must,” Hoeven said, noting that even though the sugar program is costing the government money now, it has not cost taxpayers money over the past decade. U.S. sugar prices are now lower than those in other countries, he said, but U.S. growers cannot export into many foreign markets.

On country-of-origin labeling for red meat, which went into effect in revised form on Saturday, Hoeven said there are efforts to keep it “in a simplified form,” although some House members would like to eliminate it.

On trying subsidized crop insurance to meeting federal conservation requirements, Hoeven said he would like to take that out, but if it is included he is working to make some changes, including “acre for acre mitigation” and “making sure it is not retroactive.”

He also said he wants a program of state acres for wildlife enhancement that would allow participants in the Conservation Reserve Program to design the program “for your farm the way you want it.” If it is designed along wetlands and treed areas, “sportsmen are just going to love it,” he said.

Hoeven noted that there is $880 million for energy programs in the bill and said that he believes at least half of that will be in the final bill.

On the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP or food stamps, Hoeven said, “We can’t get hung up on the number all the time. We want good sensible reforms. Isn’t that we are after?”

The real key to reducing the food stamp rolls and spending, he said, “is how our economy does over the next years.” Economic performance, not the Congressional Budget Office number, “is going to dictate” the real cost of the program, he said.

Hoeven said he agrees with requiring the states to make higher payments for the Low Income Heat and Energy Assistance program to qualify people for higher food stamp assistance, because requiring a $10 payment rather than a $1 payment will force the states “to have more skin in the game” and use that program “more judiciously.”

He also said requirements for food stamp participants working, getting training or being involved in community service should be stricter, but that states should still be able to exempt people who have to care for dependants.

Hoeven acknowledged that Congress will still “have to hit a number” on the food stamp cut, but said that if Congress cuts $9 billion over 10 years and takes into consideration the cut of more than $11 billion over three years that went into effect when the Recovery Act boost expired November 1, then the amount would be equal to the $20 billion that was the goal when the House Agriculture Committee passed the bill.

(On the House floor, the amount of the cut was increased to $39 billion over 10 years.)

“Farmers and ranchers need certainty. We need to get a five year farm bill so they know what to count on,” Hoeven concluded, urging the Farmers Union members to take tell all members of Congress, “Let’s not wait till January. Let’s get it done.”

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