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Farm Bill 2012: What happens next?

Chairman Raun brings industry up-to-date on Farm Bill progress.


By Linda Raun
Chairman
USA Rice Producers’ Group
USA Rice Federation
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As I write this piece to offer some clarity on what to expect in this year’s Farm Bill debate, a lot remains unclear. But, if I had to foreshadow what I think may happen, it would go along these lines.

The most recent talk is that Senate Agriculture Committee staff and agriculture staff for members of the Committee are plowing through the issues with a goal of meeting an April 24 committee markup. This follows the completion of Senate Agriculture Committee hearings on the Farm Bill, which concluded March 15 with a hearing on commodities and risk management issues where Mississippi rice farmer Travis Satterfield testified on behalf of the industry.

On-Farm Or Area-Wide Revenue?

Many thorny issues you’ve heard about are still outstanding, including whether a revenue-based policy should protect onfarm or area-wide revenue. The Senate is also grappling with how to deal with the issue of producer choice and what to do with producers for whom revenue protection will not work. A Farm Service Agency-delivered revenue policy’s negative interaction with crop insurance also remains an issue.

Whether these divides can be bridged in two weeks is the big question, with some betting that markup will be deferred to some later date at which time a unifying package can be cleared in committee. While what the Senate Agriculture Committee may do is only one part of the Farm Bill equation, it is important because it will give us the first clear indication of whether the Farm Bill will move any time soon in the Senate and ultimately the House. If the committee produces a divisive package, the process may be all but over until after the election with a one-year extension looming large over any protracted, divisive conference with the House. Conversely, if the committee produces a unifying package, prospects increase for earlier progress and ultimate success.

Producers Need Options

For its part, the House continues with field hearings that we have been very fortunate to be part of. Illinois producer Blake Gerard, Arkansas producer Dow Brantley, Missouri producer Paul T. Combs and Louisiana producer John Owen have done superb jobs in Illinois and Arkansas, and I expect we will have a presence in Kansas.

From there, the House Agriculture Committee will top things off with Washington hearings in late April and throughout May, with a bill markup in June. While the design of a revenue protection policy and any such policy’s interaction with crop insurance would also be issues in the House, Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson have both settled one issue: Producers need options, and the price-based option for rice developed last fall should be included in the Farm Bill.

What happens next depends on whether the Senate Agriculture Committee is able to report a unifying bill. If so, and there is successful consideration of the bill on the Senate floor, the House could follow suit. Short of that, prior to the election, we may see an effort, at least in the House, to extend current law to give producers of fall-planted crops some certainty and to give USDA more time to implement a new Farm Bill.

Whatever policy differences may now exist in the agriculture community, farm policy leaders on Capitol Hill have proven that these differences are not insurmountable to getting a long-term and sound Farm Bill done if a window of opportunity presents itself. Our team in Washington and our growers in the fields will be doing all we can to make it happen.

To learn more, visit www.usarice.com.

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