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Farm bill likely to pay on base acres

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Senate Agriculture Committee member and past chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said that working out the details of commodity programs remains one of the sticking points to holding a meeting of the conference committee to approve a final farm bill. The committee appears unlikely to meet today, as had been expected earlier this week.

"It hasn't been resolved yet. That's one of the things that needs to be resolved," Harkin told

Harkin said he understands that both the revenue program and a new version of a target price program are likely to pay farmers according to their base acres, not planted acres.

Harkin is one of the Senate Ag Committee members of the conference committee and, like most, he opposes raising target prices and making payments on planted acres when prices fall below that level. "That might encourage overproduction," he said, as well as putting more pressure on fragile farmland.

At this point, "it appears that payments will be made on historical base acres," Harkin said.

One of the reasons that a conference committee session on the farm bill has been delayed, according to press accounts, is that a milk supply management provision in the bill's revenue program for dairy farmers is drawing opposition from House Speaker John Boehner, who is a former member of the House Agriculture Committee. Supply management has a strong champion in Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN), who is the ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee and one of the key negotiators in ironing out differences between bills passed by the House and the Senate.

Harkin said he has no personal knowledge of the battle, but added, "All I know is that Minnesota will protect its dairy program. I've been through this before." Harkin isn't surprised that Peterson is fighting hard over the issue. "He'll link arms with Pat Leahy," Harkin said, referring to the Vermont senator from another dairy state who, like Harkin, is a past Ag Committee chairman and a veteran of many farm bill negotiations.

The American Soybean Association (ASA), which had opposed linking a target price program to planted acres, supports the compromise that is in the works in the bill's commodity title.

"It meets our concerns that we just didn't want to destroy the market with plantings and have farmers plant for the government," ASA president Ray Gaesser told

"From what we've been hearing, it looks like producers will be able to update their base acres if they choose to," said Gaesser, who farms near Corning, Iowa. Farmers would be able to use an average of planted acres from the last five years.

"It appears that way," Gaesser added. All this is still somewhat fluid, though, since a final agreement among negotiators may not be finished. The chairs and ranking members of both the House and Senate Ag Committees have been meeting behind closed doors, attempting to get a farm bill framework wrapped up this month. Then the conference committee would meet to approve a final version that still has to be passed by both the House and Senate.

Harkin said Thursday that it's possible negotiations could go on into the next week or two, and that it might even be February before the conference committee meets. But he didn't seem to see that as a barrier to finishing a farm bill early in the new year.

Gaesser, too, is more optimistic these days. "I keep saying, it appears we're going to get a farm bill. It does seem more likely than in the last two years," he said.

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