Commodity consensus?

DANIEL LOOKER 03/21/2012 @ 11:30am Business Editor

Major farm groups have been meeting to build consensus before the Senate Agriculture Committee holds its hearing March 21 on a commodity title for the next farm bill.

Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, and 11 commodity groups ramped up discussing farm bill strategy in February.

“It was an opportunity to have a united front, because, frankly, there are a lot of people who want to do away with farm programs,” says Dana Peterson, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers. Her group and USA Rice Federation organized a key meeting, which ended with a commitment to work together on future farm policy. “Also confirmed is our common belief that Congress should pass and the President should sign a strong new farm bill into law this year,” the group said afterwards. “The law expires at the end of this year and producers – like all job creators – need certainty from Washington.”

Uncertain future

Will that happen? “Likelihood and what I want to happen are sometimes two different things,” Peterson admits. “I think the chairwoman (Debbie Stabenow, D-MI) would like to have something out of the committee by Memorial Day at the very latest,” she says. And she thinks the House will follow the Senate. Many think that if a bill isn't passed and signed by August, it will be stalled by election-year politics.

At their first meeting, farm groups outlined ideas they had pitched last fall to be rolled into a Super Committee's failed deficit-reduction efforts, says Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president. Those ideas ranged from Farmers Union's voluntary grain reserve to Farm Bureau's county-level deep-loss protection to several shallow-loss revenue programs. Still, the group strongly supports keeping crop insurance, Johnson says.

“I expect we'll have some common language at the [March 21 Senate] hearing,” Johnson says, “and that would be helpful.”

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