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Published January 17, 2014, 10:29 AM

Farm bill could go to House floor Jan. 27

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said Jan. 16 he thinks a dairy program that he can accept is being worked out and that it will pave the way for House leadership to bring the farm bill to the floor the week of Jan. 27 and be finished before the House goes out of session on Jan. 29 when the Republican members go on their retreat.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said Jan. 16 he thinks a dairy program that he can accept is being worked out and that it will pave the way for House leadership to bring the farm bill to the floor the week of Jan. 27 and be finished before the House goes out of session on Jan. 29 when the Republican members go on their retreat.

Peterson told reporters off the House floor he has not seen the dairy language, but he has gotten “verbal communication” to describe it to him.

“It’s not the worst thing in the world,” he said. “It’s not what I wanted. I won’t be happy, but I won’t hold the bill up over it.”

But Peterson later issued a cautionary statement.

“I have not agreed to anything at this point and still support the Dairy Security Act,” he said. “While the proposed concept at least appears to move in the right direction and may be something I could reluctantly support, without further details a lot still needs to be worked out.”

Those details would presumably be worked out during the congressional recess that began Jan. 16 for the House and Jan. 17 for the Senate.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said earlier in the week that a new dairy proposal was on the table, but not yet completed. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who had said the bill would not come up with “Soviet-style” supply management, told Agweek, “The speaker thanks Chairman Lucas for his continuing hard work on this issue, and is hopeful we have a way to move forward.”

Remaining Issues

Peterson said the other big remaining farm bill issues — rules on payment limits and the definition of “actively engaged” farmers — are “being worked on,” but that he is not involved in that debate.

He added, however, that he believes “you cannot define the farmer. It is like trying to define cost of production.”

The payment limits issue is “not a big deal” to him, Peterson said, and Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is very much involved in finalizing that issue.

He said both Lucas and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had “abandoned” him in his quest to keep what dairy farmers call market stabilization and dairy processors call supply management in the bill, and that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has also become “involved” in the process.

Under the proposal, Peterson said, the margin insurance that is already in the House and Senate bills would remain exactly as is, but if the margin between price and cost of production becomes too tight, dairy producers would get a signal not to increase production.

That signal would be either through elimination or reduction of payments or through an increase in the premium for the margin insurance, but that decision has not been finalized, Peterson said. The market stabilization and supply management provision would not be in the bill, he noted.

There would not be price supports or an extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract Program in the bill, he said, but there may be an increase in the government’s ability to buy milk.

Peterson said he does not know whether there will be a public meeting of the 41 farm bill conferees, and noted that it is not legally necessary because there has been one public meeting.

Asked what will happen to other proposals — repealing country-of-origin labeling for red meat, repealing the law that moves catfish inspection from the Food and Drug Administration to U.S. Department of Agriculture, repealing USDA’s ability to make certain changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act, and the amendment sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to forbid states from banning food sales based on production methods in other states — Peterson shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

Peterson said when he met with Boehner, he told the speaker “You and I are both getting screwed.”

Asked by Agweek by whom or what, Peterson said, “By the process.”

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