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Getting closer on a farm bill

DANIEL LOOKER Updated: 11/09/2011 @ 7:26am Business Editor

Members of congressional agriculture committees are learning more about the shape of a farm bill that may go soon to the deficit cutting super committee but regional disputes are still holding it up.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told reporters Tuesday that Republican ag committee members met Monday to learn more about the still unfinished farm bill.

“There’s a lot of debate about how to structure the commodity program,” Grassley said.

The committees remain under pressure to finish a draft in time for the Super Committee to consider it for deficit cutting legislation that’s due on November 23. And Grassley said he still hasn’t seen a draft of a bill.

If they don’t Grassley said the Super Committee is likely to ask the agriculture committees to write a farm bill next year that would at least stick to the $23 billion in cuts they have already proposed.

When asked if the Super Committee’s cuts might be bigger,  Grassley said, “The could be. I’m sure they won’t be any smaller.”

Grassley said that it may be too much to expect only the four leaders (chairs and ranking members) of the ag committees write a farm bill in a short time. But he said it will be even harder to write one next year because it’s an election year, and because new members of the House who were elected in 2010 don’t understand agriculture.

Ag committee Democrats also went over a broad outline of the commodity title ideas at a meeting on Monday, according to a staffer working for a congressional Democrat.

“There have been real challenges for the ag committee to come up with something to replace direct payments,” he told Agriculture.com.

There seems to be a consensus to eliminate direct payments, he said, but the ag committees aren’t replacing it with just one commodity program. Instead, he said, they’re likely to offer farmers three separate programs.

The first would allow producers to stay in the marketing loan and counter-cyclical programs (with no direct payment).  At least some target prices would be increased, making this option more attractive perhaps to rice and maybe wheat growers. But the levels would be too low to be attractive to corn and soybean farmers.

A second alternative is a revenue program similar to ACRE (Average Crop Revenue Election) but with the guarantee set at the county level.  It is similar to legislation already introduced by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

The third is an enhanced revenue-based crop insurance program designed to appeal to cotton growers, who have not been big participants in the existing crop insurance program.

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