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No farm bill deal yet

DANIEL LOOKER 11/10/2011 @ 2:41pm Business Editor

One of the reasons there is still no farm bill to offer to the deficit trimming Super Committee in Congress is that members of the ag committees still haven’t seen a written draft of the bill.

That’s the view of Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union President, who spoke with Agriculture.com by telephone Thursday from the National Association of Farm Broadcasters conference in Kansas City.

“Members aren’t going to vote for something until they see it written, and they shouldn’t,” Johnson said. Nor would his group, and probably most other farm groups, endorse the legislation without seeing it, he added.

Johnson said that the staff of the leaders of the House and Senate ag committees are currently trying to put together two concepts, a permanent disaster program something like SURE (Supplement Revenue Assistance Payments Program) and ACRE (Average Crop Revenue Election) program.

Johnson said that a few weeks ago Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) proposed a disaster program that would trigger when income dropped below a guarantee set at the farm level.

Senator Tom Harkin, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told Agriculture.com Thursday that a farm level commodity program may be unrealistic and that he talked about that when Senate Ag Committee Democrats met with the committee chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) on Monday.

“As I said at our meeting, the farm level, everybody would like that, but the cost is prohibitive,” Harkin said.

Farmers Union President Johnson, who was North Dakota’s elected Commissioner of Agriculture before moving to Washington to lead the farm group, has long known Conrad.

“It’s just simply not accurate to say you can’t afford an individual trigger. It depends on how it’s constructed,” Johnson said. Conrad’s original idea would have paid out on losses over a whole farm, including all crops, not just one crop, as is the case for ACRE.  A whole-farm program would pay out less often.

Johnson said Conrad’s program, and a revenue-based program similar to one proposed by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) aren’t what the ag committee is considering now. Instead, the staff is trying to combine both concepts, he said.

The delay in finishing language that members can look at is the main issue, Johnson said.

“I talked to Senator Conrad yesterday again. I know where he’s at on that,” he said.

For his part, Harkin said he’s pleased with the way the farm bill’s conservation title is shaping up. Most of the $6.3 billion in cuts would come from a smaller conservation reserve program. A working lands program like the Conservation Stewardship Program would not face major cuts, he said.

Another complication in the negotiations, as we reported earlier this week, is that the farm bill may have three different choices for farmers. One might be higher loan rates for some commodities, with wheat and rice rumored to be big winners.  A revenue-based program is seen as more favorable to corn and soybean farmers. And an enhanced crop insurance program may encourage more participation in that portion of the farm bill, now the largest, by cotton farmers.

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