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Harkin still fighting for more conservation funds

Agriculture.com Staff 09/12/2007 @ 9:54am

Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee said Tuesday that he's still negotiating with the Senate Finance Committee to find funds for expanded conservation programs in the next farm bill.

"Our challenge remains finding the critical new funding for the bill," Harkin said in a telephone press conference.

With crop production increasing dramatically to meet demand for biofuels, a conservation program for working lands "is needed now more than ever," Harkin said.

At one point Harkin seemed to reveal frustration over lack of support for CSP and said he thought the agricultural community should have been fighting harder for conservation funds. "Quite frankly, I take them to task," he said. If voluntary programs aren't expanded, there is a risk that farmer will face mandatory regulations in the future, he said. Harkin said he also supports strong enforcement of existing conservation compliance programs.

"We do have conservation compliance, but we've been very lax in enforcing it," he said.

The Senate Finance Committee is reportedly looking at ways to set up a trust fund for a permanent disaster program, but Harkin said he believes a revenue-based countercyclical program would be a better way to accomplish the same goals.

"We've run the numbers on this and quite frankly it's better for every state, including some of the states that want a permanent disaster program," he said.

Harkin said his own revenue-based program is similar to one introduced by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and that payments would be triggered by state-level yields and prices.

Harkin said that he's still hoping to have his committee approve its own farm bill late this month. But earlier Tuesday Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he doesn't think the committee markup of the bill will happen until early October.

"I think if we can get it done early in October it'll get done," Grassley said. "If not, I think we're going to have an extension." That extension might continue existing farm programs for one or two years, he said. Grassley said that Senate Republicans on the Committee still favor writing a farm bill this year but would not oppose an extension.

Harkin said that he believes it will still be possible to write a new farm bill in the current calendar year, but not in the federal fiscal year, which ends this month. After the Senate committee writes a bill, it still has to come up for a vote in the full Senate. Then a conference committee of senators and representatives will have to craft a final farm bill from the House and Senate versions.

Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee said Tuesday that he's still negotiating with the Senate Finance Committee to find funds for expanded conservation programs in the next farm bill.

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