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Grassroots message: farm bill this year

DANIEL LOOKER 03/23/2012 @ 6:52pm Business Editor

Midwest farmers invited to a House Agriculture Committee field hearing Friday in Galesburg, Illinois, had a two-part message for Congress:  Pass a farm bill this year and, as John Mages, a corn and soybean grower from Belgrade, Minnesota put it, “above all, don’t do anything that hurts crop insurance.”

Blake Gerard, a corn, soybean and wheat farmer who also grows rice on his farm in the southernmost county in Illinois, told the committee that he would like to see crop insurance strengthened to work well for more commodities.

“For our rice enterprise, crop insurance has not been working effectively,” he said.

Gerard also said he likes the concept of offering growers of different commodities a choice of the type of safety net program that would be available in the next farm bill such as the one that leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees made for the deficit-cutting “super committee” last fall.

“You did a very effective job of putting together a proposal that would work for all producers,” Gerard said.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), thanked Gerard for saying that, adding, “Apparently not everybody in America agrees with that.”

At one point during the hearing held at Carl Sandburg College, Lucas said passing a farm bill this year  “is going to be a very challenging process.” But  all of the members of the committee who  showed up Friday pledged to work toward that goal.

Representative Leonard Boswell (D-IA), indicated that the committee has a bipartisan commitment to getting a farm bill passed.

“I think we’ve got an excellent chairman that is committed to making the best possible farm bill,  Boswell said.

Added Representative Robert Schilling, an Illinois Republican who hosted the meeting in his district, “In the spirit of Mark Twain, reports of the death of bipartisanship have been greatly exaggerated.”

Congress has approved free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, as well as other important legislation, he said.

Representative Randy Hultgren, another Illinois Republican on the ag committee, said, “I’m really hoping we can get a farm bill passed, and also a surface transportation bill.” Hultgren said the transportation bill is important for helping move U.S. crops to export markets.

At a press conference after the hearing, the head of the subcommittee that will write the commodity title of the farm bill, Representative K. Michael Conaway (R-TX), said the 46 members face a tough job of selling a farm bill to enough members the House to get the needed 218 votes for passage.

“Getting that understanding to our colleagues is easier said than done,” Conaway said.

The House Agriculture Committee has two more field hearing scheduled through April 20 and after that it will hold about three hearings in Washington, Conaway said.

“Then we’re going to kind of wait to see what the Senate does,” he said. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow has said that her committee will write a farm bill within a few weeks.

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