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House expected to take up farm bill week of June 17

House expected to take up farm bill week of June 17

House could vote on a new farm bill the week of June 17. Speaker John Boehner backs legislation. Major fight over nutrition program funding expected.

If all goes well, the House is expected to take up a new farm bill the week of June 17.

Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture committee, believes once the bill reaches the House floor, some 30 to 40 amendments will be voted on. He continues to play up the legislation’s chances of passing after several days of debate, even as a nasty fight over food stamp funding looms. Other skirmishes are expected from opponents of Commodity Title provisions and crop insurance.

Lucas’ belief in a new farm bill passing was surely bolstered after House Speaker John Boehner’s recent backing. This is a marked change for Boehner, following his drawn out and ultimate refusal to allow a farm bill to reach the floor last year.

On June 3, the full Senate passed a new five-year, $955 billion farm bill on a 66 to 27 vote. The Senate version of the bill would reduce nutrition program funding $4 billion, far less than the $20 billion-plus called for by the House.

If the House can pass a farm bill quickly, it would allow a lengthy conference to reconcile differences with the Senate version. Both chambers are under pressure to strike a deal as the current farm bill – a one-year extension of the 2008 law – expires in late September.

Following Boehner’s support of the farm bill, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said there was “real optimism that Washington can get important work done in 2013. In return, (Boehner) has been attacked unfairly by those who want to make the bipartisan progress on a farm bill appear to be the work of party politics by President Obama or the speaker himself.”

Deriding “partisan bickering,” Stallman said, “Congress is advancing bipartisan farm legislation -- the House bill that cleared committee on a bipartisan 36-10 vote will soon be on the House floor. It is unfortunate that outside political groups with no interest in the agricultural economy or the farm and ranch families who underpin our rural economies have reacted by promoting inaction, effectively supporting no reform, no progress. Heritage Foundation-Heritage Action, for example, opposes the legislation, but they are misstating the facts in characterizing reforms advanced in the legislation as a referendum on the president. It certainly is not the view of a single leader in the political debate.”

The House bill's crop insurance program provides a pathway for rice farmers and others who are underserved, "to avail themselves of risk management tools that are tailored toward the perils that most affect their operations," said USA Rice Federation Chairman Mark Denman and USA Rice Producers' Group Chairman Linda Raun in a June 12 letter (read it here) sent to lawmakers from rice-producing districts.

Price Loss Coverage  worries

Another letter to lawmakers – sent June 13 and jointly signed by the American Soybean Association (ASA), National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), National Sunflower Association and the U.S. Canola Association – also urged quick passage of the farm bill in the House.

“The bill would consolidate conservation programs, reauthorize and fund agricultural research, energy, and export promotion programs, and make improvements in federal crop insurance. We strongly support these provisions, and ask that you oppose any amendments which would eliminate or weaken them,” said the groups in the letter (read it here).

“We are very encouraged by the momentum that the farm bill has going into the House, and we urge Representatives to act quickly to provide farmers with the certainty we need moving forward,” said Danny Murphy, ASA president and soybean grower from Canton, Miss. “We are convinced that lawmakers can work together to pass a bill that both supports agriculture and confronts our budgetary obligations responsibly.”

In a press release, the groups did note concern with the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program option, which they argued “would set high, fixed reference prices for program crops which, in some cases, exceed their historical prices and cost of production.”  There is also the possibility it would “tie payments to producers to crops they grow in the current year, which could distort planting decisions and production if market prices fall below their support levels.”

“Since the 1996 farm bill … farm policy has provided planting flexibility, encouraging producers to respond to market signals in making their planting decisions rather than to the prospect of receiving government payments,” wrote the groups. “We do not want to see policies return to the era of high supports tied to current-year plantings, which distorted crop production in the 1980’s. The PLC program in the committee bill should be modified to make it responsive to the market rather than the government.”

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