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Leading lawmakers hope to limit farm bill debate hiccups

Congress reconvenese after Memorial Day recess. Senate again takes up farm bill on the floor. Vote may come by the weekend.

On Monday (June 3), with Congress reconvened after the Memorial Day recess, the Senate will again take up the $955 billion farm bill. A vote by the full Senate could come by Friday.

The House – where there will be a much tougher fight over key elements like food stamp funding – will begin its farm bill floor debate later in June.

To keep the process from bogging down, farm policy leaders in both chambers have expressed a desire to limit amendments. If the legislation stays on track, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, has said the new farm bill could be reach a conference committee by August.

That would be good news for farmers as the current 2008 farm bill extension expires at the end of September.

The House, says Chandler Goule, who works National Farmers Union government relations, “must bring the farm bill to the floor in June. That way, there will be July and August and part of September to conference it. We cannot afford – mainly for budgetary reasons – another extension of the (2008) farm bill if we want enough money to operate all the programs efficiently. It’s crucial that the House pass a farm bill in June.”

Among Goule’s other comments:

On the immigration bill that passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and pending guest-worker legislation in the House…

“The NFU is a member of the Agriculture Working Coalition so pretty much all of our policies and support have been in line with that very large and broad coalition.

“Overall, we were pleased with the section of the immigration bill that passed out of the Senate committee that would directly affect agriculture and those who work in the industry.

“As for (Virginia Rep. Bob) Goodlatte (guest-worker) bill, we’re very happy to see that the House is starting to move on immigration. We’re looking to sit down with Chairman Goodlatte and see if we can’t work out a few more agreements on the best ways to address the needs of agriculture and labor issues.

“It is a very positive sign that both chambers continue to move on immigration reform. This is something the federal government has needed to do for years.”

More on immigration reform/guest-worker legislation here.

Back to the Senate farm bill, can you comment on the sugar program and the Shaheen amendment that was voted down…

“We were very pleased to see the Shaheen amendment not pass. NFU has been a long-time supporter of sugar producers – whether cane or beets.”

More on the sugar program here.

“It’s one of the few commodity programs that we have that’s no cost to the taxpayer. It is a program that is mandated by law to import sugar from developing countries.

“When you look at the profit margins made by candy companies over the last decade, it’s very tough to point at the sugar program and say it is causing them any harm. All of them have posted in the high-single to double-digit profit margins as an average.

“So, we’ll continue to support producers and the sugar program.”

GMO labeling, crop insurance

What about Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders GMO labeling amendment that was voted down?

“NFU does support the labeling of food products and commodities that contain genetically-engineered materials. We did support the amendment.

“Whether a federal law that mandates that for everyone is the exact way to go, we don’t have a position.

“However, we do support the labeling and think the biotech companies, food processors and retailers need to come together and figure out a way to make the information available to consumers. Maybe it could be on labels or on-line messaging or on-line sites where (consumers) can read what is in the food items.”

On the coupling of crop insurance and conservation programs…

“NFU is a supporter of the conservation compliance compromise that is linked to crop insurance.

“If it wasn’t for conservation and agriculture producers being concerned about natural resources – and therefore complying with conservation programs and regulations – (it wouldn’t be good). Without that, the drought over the last two years could have meant another Dust Bowl.

“It’s very clear that conservation has played a significant part in helping us manage our soil, air and water resources.”

What about the programs for peanuts and rice to get the Southern senators on board? Does NFU agree with that approach?

“NFU does support counter cyclical programs that protect all commodities … to protect against multi-year price collapse. The programs for rice and peanuts, we will support. However, we’d like to see the level of price protection to be spread out a little more geographically. But, overall, we agree with the concept.”

Where do you stand on the dairy program? Are you for the Dairy Security Act?

“The NFU does support the stabilization component of the Dairy Security Act. We’re very pleased to see that there’s a ‘family farmer’ or ‘family dairyman’ position in there to help with the premium on the first four million pounds for margin insurance.

“The NFU did actively oppose the Goodlatte-Scott amendment that would have stripped stabilization out of that program. We hope that program will be left intact as the farm bill moves to conference.”


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