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Getting closer on a farm bill

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

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

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

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.

The staffer said that one of the remaining disputes is over payment

“There are some issues relating to whether payment limits
would apply, and how they would apply if there’s a crop insurance program for
cotton,” he said.  The cotton
growers already are giving up direct payments and may be resisting payment
limits on a new program, which also would not pay every year.

Senate Ag Committee member Kent Conrad said at a farm bill
meeting in Fargo, North Dakota Monday that he opposes exempting some programs
from payment limits.

“I’ve very concerned about having a farm program that really
is defensible,” Conrad said in an article written for the Grand Forks Herald by
Mikkel Pates.

The Democratic staffer also said that some wheat grower
interests still believe that crop isn’t being treated as well as corn and
soybeans in the farm bill commodity title that’s being put together.

At this point, the committee leaders are still considering cutting
$15 billion from the commodity title over 10 years as well as $4 billion from
nutrition programs. Conservation cuts would total $6.3 billion.

That adds up to more than the $23 billion in proposed cuts
for ag programs, but that’s because committee members want to make some funds
available for a few of the programs that expire in the current farm bill.
Grassley has said that he wants to maintain some energy-related programs.



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