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Harkin says his farm bill will be different

Agriculture.com Staff 02/13/2016 @ 12:53am

The Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee said his version of a farm bill will not include a commodity title like the one approved by a House Agriculture Subcommittee last week. The House version of the farm bill would essentially extend the 2002 farm bill's "safety net" for another five years.

Senator Tom Harkin has different plans.

"As I've been saying for a long time we have a responsibility to write a farm bill that looks to the future, not in the rearview mirror," Harkin told reporters Tuesday.

Harkin refrained from direct criticism of the House action but said "I just can't imagine that’s going to survive the House floor."

Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) has introduced an alternative farm bill that would end marketing loans, end countercyclical payments after the 2008 crop year and shrink direct payments and shift them into a risk management account that could be tapped when a farm’s gross revenue is less than 95% of its five-year average.

The House commodities subcommittee unanimously voted down the Kind farm bill last week and several members of the committee said they hoped Congress won't take that route.

Harkin said Tuesday that his own changes to the commodity title won't be that dramatic.

"I'm not talking about drastic change. I'm talking about modest proposals that will move us in a different direction. This is not a Ron Kind type of bill," he said.

Among the changes Harkin mentioned would be updating the base acres that some commodity program payments are calculated on. Harkin said that would eliminate land that has not been farmed recently from those payments, but that it would also mean some newly planted acres would be added to the program.

Harkin again questioned the validity of direct payments, which he pointed out were originally intended to be temporary under the 1996 farm bill. "In seven years they were to be phased out. Well, seven years have come and gone."

But he said he doesn't think direct payments will be eliminated completely. "I'm not certain that's in the cards," he said.

He wants to start a revenue-based countercyclical program that would pay farmers "with some kind of overlay" above crop insurance when farmers have a bad year. He praised the National Corn Growers Association for coming up with a similar idea but said that there won't be enough money to determine losses for revenue-based payments at the county level, as NCGA advocates. Harkin's revenue-based program would either be based on state-level farm revenue or national-level revenue.

Harkin said he believes other commodity organizations will support the concept. And, he said, it could be viewed as a less expensive substitute for a permanent disaster program that has been advocated by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN).

Harkin also repeated his support for strong payment limits in the Senate version of a farm bill. He was unsure about whether payment limits would pass in his own committee. But he said he's certain that the bill will be amended on the Senate floor to include limits.

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