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Ag Committee leader expects no major changes to House farm bill

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) told reporters Friday that he doubts the farm bill his committee approved Thursday will face significant changes when it comes up for a vote in the full House of Representatives this week.

Peterson said he has worked closely with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "The Speaker is involved in this," he said. "There may be amendments offered but I don't think they will be successful."

The chairman is proud of a process that he said has been open and bipartisan. The committee crafted a compromise on Country of Origin Labeling that surprised his counterpart in Senate Agriculture Committee, Tom Harkin. And the committee pushed southern members further than they wanted to go on reforming commodity program payment limits, something their farming constituents don't like.

The committee dropped the income level the bars anyone from receiving farm program payments from $2.5 million to $1 million, which is a far cry from the firm cap of $250,000 on payments that is advocated in the Senate by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Byron Dorgan (D-MN). And the committee did away with commodity certificates, removing any caps at all on LDPs and marketing loan gains, arguing that the marketing loan program will become more open and transparent.

Some groups are still calling for changes to the committee's farm bill.

The Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska wants Pelosi to delay the vote until after the August congressional recess.

"The Committee bill provides a major increase in subsidies for mega-farms to drive smaller operations out of business. Under this legislation, government would spend more to destroy family farming," Chuck Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs Executive Director, wrote in a letter to Pelosi.

Representative Leonard Boswell, an Iowa Democrat who heads the livestock subcommittee, said he, too, would have like to have seen a tougher payment cap, but in the end, the full committee produced a bill with broad support. "I would hope when we go to the floor (of the House) the rest of the members will appreciate the unbelievable hours we've put in," he said Friday.

Peterson argues that the bill does have real reform.

"Eliminating [the] three entity [rule] is a huge change," he said. The rule, which allowed farm owners to receive additional direct and counter-cyclical payments in two other business entities (in effect doubling the limits for those payments) would be eliminated in the 2007 farm bill if the House version winds up in the final law. "People need to give us credit," Peterson said.

Cotton farmers are likely to be hit hardest by any payment limits, at a time when the industry is facing stiff competition from what Peterson said are subsidized farms in China.

"You can't just upset the apple cart overnight," he said. "These people out there have huge investments. They are not wealthy people who can withstand huge risks."

The bill was getting good reaction from many producer groups, including National Cattlement’s Beef Association, R-CALF and the National Pork Producers Association, which all are supporting a compromise that implements mandatory Country of Origin Labeling in 2008.

National Farmers Union also praised the bill.

"The decreased budget baseline created many obstacles but Peterson and the other members of the committee made lemonade out of lemons," said NFU president Tom Buis in a statement released Friday. "Their hard work and long hours have paid off and I believe this bill will have broad support across the countryside."

Farmers Union considered these provisions of the bill noteworthy:

  • Provides a counter-cyclical safety net for farmers when prices are low;
  • Establishes a process for implementing mandatory COOL. COOL was included in the 2002 farm bill but has been implementation has been delayed for five years;
  • Approves interstate shipment of state inspected meat;
  • Re-balances loan rates by raising them for wheat, sorghum, oilseeds and sugar;
  • Prevents the closure or relocation of any Farm Service Agency (FSA) office for a period of one full year following the enactment of the overall bill;
  • Increases assistance for fruits and vegetables, conservation, food and nutrition programs.

Buis said that NFU will keep working for other goals left out of committee's bill, such as a competition title, voluntary arbitration and prohibiting dairy forward contracting. The bill now heads to the House floor for full House consideration on Thursday, July 26, Buis said.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) told reporters Friday that he doubts the farm bill his committee approved Thursday will face significant changes when it comes up for a vote in the full House of Representatives this week.

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