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Rice groups push for farm bill debate

Jumpstarting the debate on any farm bill proposal in the Senate is preferable to delaying action until an ideal proposal finds its way to the Senate floor, according to at least one commodity group.

“The worst thing that could happen would be to get bogged down in the Senate in a partisan battle between the Democratic proposal and the Republican alternative. Getting nothing out is much worse than having either one or the other make it to the Senate floor,” said Nolan Canon, chairman of the U.S. Rice Producers Association.

Canon, who spoke at the Delta Area Rice Meeting in Cleveland, Miss., said that while the rice industry would like to see a farm bill passed by year's end, rice growers, at the very least, want the Senate to begin debating legislation before the new year rolls around.

No matter which farm bill proposal is approved by the Senate, Canon is of the opinion that a workable farm bill will emerge from a Senate-House conference.

“We want legislation out of the Senate this year,” he said. “Congress budgeted a large amount of money for agriculture over the next 10 years, but when they come out with the new numbers this spring the money is not going to be there. Right now Congress has the authority to spend that money even though we know the budget is going to shrink tremendously because of the depressed economic situation in the country. If we wait until next year to write the farm bill, Congress is going to be working with a lot less money than they can work with today.

“The important thing is to get some legislation passed this year so we can take advantage of a really good budget number to work with right now. As farmers, our bottom line profit revolves around what type of farm safety net comes out of Washington, D.C.,” Canon said.

If a farm bill does find its way to the president's desk, Canon said, he would give much of the credit to Rep. Larry Combest, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

“He was the bulldog driving force in getting the legislation initiated. Many people didn't want to write a farm bill this year, and even the president asked him not to bring it to the House floor. But Combest said, ‘Nope, my farmers need help, we need a new farm bill, we've got to move on, and life has to continue.’ He went against the wishes of the president, who is his own party, to bring the farm bill to the House floor.”

In the Senate, the Agriculture Committee approved Sen. Tom Harkin's version of a new farm bill, and defeated an amendment by Sens. Thad Cochran and Pat Roberts. Cochran and Roberts are likely to again present an alternative farm bill proposal when debate begins in the Senate.

“There are both positives and negatives to each one of the bills,” said Canon. “The Harkin Bill (S1731) has some provisions that are fairly different from the House bill, although nothing that couldn't be compromised out.

“One provision in the Harkin bill updates payment bases and program yields. Updating program bases and rice yields, generally speaking for most Delta rice producers, is a good thing,” he said.

“We are currently operating off of old yield numbers that are, in most cases, much lower than our actual yield numbers. However, updating program bases may not be as attractive to rice growers in some parts of the country, including Texas, Louisiana and California, because they have not been planting all of their bases. In those areas of the Delta, though, where rice producers have been planting a high percentage of their base and have seen an yield improvements, this provision may prove to be very attractive.”


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