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Groups urge farm bill vote

DANIEL LOOKER Updated: 08/29/2012 @ 10:03am Business Editor

In a hot and muggy media tent at the Farm Progress Show outside of Boone, Iowa, leaders of a diverse coalition of farm groups made another pitch Tuesday for Congress passing a farm bill before the current law expires on September 30.

Even though the House of Representatives has only eight days left on its legislative calendar before the November elections, members of the Farm Bill Now Coalition insist that it's still possible to finish the job that has been stymied since that chamber's Agriculture Committee voted for a bill in the early morning hours of July 12.

Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, isn't letting the House leadership use lack of time as an excuse.

"The Senate took three days" to pass its bill, Hill said.   And he's optimistic that the differences between that version of a farm bill and the House committee's can be worked out in a conference committee representing both chambers of Congress.

"We have similar bills that can be easily conferenced," Hill said.

Chris Peterson, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, a group that doesn't always agree with Farm Bureau, had the same script Tuesday. "How many blocks of three days have they let slip by doing other things?" he asked, referring to House votes taken on other issues since the House Agriculture Committee acted.

Since the coalition announced itself on August 22, its membership has grown from 39 to 46 groups that represent every major commodity and farm group as well as such conservation groups at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Association of Conservation Districts. The group plans a Capitol Hill event on September 12 to urge action on the bill.

Chuck Conner, CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, wasn't in Iowa Tuesday, but in a phone interview he told Agriculture.com why his group also backs the coalition.

"NCFC's intent is obvious, to get the farm bill done. We have talked a lot about the risks in agriculture today. They're enormous. Policy should not be one of those risks," Conner said.

When asked who might be affected by letting the current farm bill lapse, Conner said, "Certainly dairy immediately goes to the top of the list. Dairy prices are not particularly high right now."  MILC payments (from the Milk Income Loss Contract program) would end, Conner said.

Conner, a former deputy secretary of agriculture, also heads the Farmers and Ranchers for Romney Coalition and was getting ready to head to Tampa, Florida for the Republican National Convention.

He was less optimistic than some in the Farm Bill Now Coalition that a bill could be passed in the remaining days of the session. But he expects the bill to be passed in a lame duck session of Congress after the election.

Because of the "fiscal cliff" that Congress faces if the Bush era tax cuts expire by the end of this year, Conner expects that session to be much more active than the usual post-election session.

"I think that gives us a window for legislative action," he said.

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