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Published December 16, 2013, 10:26 AM

Ag leaders hopeful for farm bill

House and Senate Agriculture committee leaders said Dec. 13 they expect both houses of Congress to pass a new farm bill in early January. But they will not reveal a framework for the bill until early January, so they can show it to the other 37 conferees first.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — House and Senate Agriculture committee leaders said Dec. 13 they expect both houses of Congress to pass a new farm bill in early January. But they will not reveal a framework for the bill until early January, so they can show it to the other 37 conferees first.

The House has gone out of session until Jan. 7, after passing a one-month extension of the 2008 farm bill. The Senate will be in session through Dec. 20, but is not expected to take up the extension bill. House leaders said they wanted to be sure the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not implement the 1949 dairy law, which would lead to higher milk prices, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said that is not a worry if Congress passes a new farm bill in January.

The four principals — House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Senate Agriculture ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., had “another productive meeting,” Lucas, who is chairing the conference, told reporters as they emerged from a meeting room in the Longworth House Office Building.

“We’re moving right down the pike,” Lucas said, adding that the bill now needs to be vetted by the House and Senate Agriculture committee lawyers.

Stabenow said there is “no question” about whether the committees will come to an agreement to pass a bill in early January, but she also said they would not release a framework agreement until early January because it will be a “courtesy to our fellow conferees” to present it to them before releasing it to the public.

There have been reports that Lucas and Peterson will return to Washington to negotiate with Stabenow and Cochran. Lucas affirmed that they would return if needed, but Stabenow said they would consult either in person or by telephone.

Bill components

Lucas told K-101 Radio, a Woodward, Okla., station on Dec. 10 that they have reached agreement on the commodity title including crop insurance and the nutrition title including food stamps, but when asked if the group had moved on to other issues, Lucas quoted Stabenow, who has said, “It’s not done until it’s all done.”

All four principal negotiators have declined to reveal details of the bill, but some information on the agreement has leaked out. It appears the bill would cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $8 billion over 10 years, twice want the Senate wanted but only a fifth of what the House approved.

On the commodity title, it appears farmers will have a choice between payments based on revenue losses and one based on target prices. Payments would be made on base acreages, but it appears likely farmers will be able to update their bases to reflect changes in what they grow compared with the 1980s when the current bases were established. It seems likely that participants in the subsidized crop insurance program will have to comply with federal conservation standards, but less likely that premium subsidies to high income farmers will be cut.

Peterson has said that the dairy program will be “workable,” an indication that he is satisfied with it and that it will favor dairy farmers more than processors.

Both the House and Senate farm bills extended the sugar program, and it appears likely to remain in the bill even though low prices have led to government payments for the first time in a decade and sugar users have complained it is raising their costs.

Politico reported on Dec. 13 that the conference leaders had settled on limiting the land-idling Conservation Reserve Program to 24 million acres.

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