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Farm bill progress: Conferees plan next meeting

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., left, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., right, are intercepted by reporters after negotigations on the farm bill wrapped up on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday. At far right is the House Agriculture Committee Ranking Democrat Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By Jerry Hagstrom

WASHINGTON — Leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees appear to be making progress on merging the House and Senate farm bills into a conference report even though House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Congress may need to pass a one-month extension of the 2008 farm bill to make sure milk prices don’t rise.

0 Talk about it

In a sign of progress on the farm bill, members of Congress farm bill conferees planned to meet in a public session last week, a House Republican aide confirmed last Friday.

Nothing has been scheduled, the aide noted, but the possibility of a member meeting was an indication of continuing progress on the bill. Last week was the only one in which both the House and the Senate would be in session. The House is scheduled to leave Washington for the year on Friday.

House agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairs the conference. Lucas has said issues such as whether there would be changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act and country of original labeling for meat are likely to be discussed and voted on in a public session.

The Obama administration signaled Nov. 5 that leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees should continue working hard to finish the farm bill.

“Negotiations on Capitol Hill about the farm bill should continue until House and Senate leaders reach agreement on a comprehensive bill. Numerous members of both sides have indicated progress, and the country deserves continued work on this critical legislation,” Matt Paul, the communications director for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Big push

Lucas acknowledged to reporters that finishing a conference report before the House leaves town would be “Herculean” but he also said he hopes Congress will not need to approve a one month extension, The Hill reported.

Lucas said that “if the members know with certainty, if the U.S. Department of Agriculture knows with certainty that a finished product will be on the floor the first few days in January, I think that probably would reassure everyone involved,” Roll Call Online reported.

“As Sen. (Debbie) Stabenow (D-Mich.) says, nothing is ever done until all the parts are complete,” Lucas continued. “Maybe Sen. Stabenow is right. It would still be my hope that we could get all of our work done in time to not require an extension.”

Meanwhile, some details on the commodity title began to leak out, according to various publications.

Lucas confirmed that one option on the table would be using the House’s price loss coverage program but basing it on the Senate’s preference for historic acres, rather than actual acres planted, The Hill said.

The corn, soybean and canola industries and Midwestern lawmakers have said that using current planted acres could bring a World Trade Organization complaint that the U.S. farm program rather than market signals is triggering U.S. production.

The rough goal is to pay on 85 percent of base acres for both the new revenue and price loss programs in the proposed commodity title, Politico reported.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who has advocated using current planted acres, told reporters he has gone along with the Senate proposal.

“Don’t ask me to defend it, that’s all I told them,” Peterson joked with reporters, according to the Politico report. “We’ve never had the base acres scored,” he said.

Peterson also said farmers would likely be asked to choose whether they want a program based on revenue or target prices, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Peterson also told reporters this week that an agreement has been reached on the dairy title, but he refused to reveal any details.

Peterson wrote the original dairy proposal in conjunction with the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents dairy farmers. That proposal, known as the Dairy Security Act, passed the House and Senate agriculture committees and the Senate, but because of objections from International Dairy Foods Association, which represents processors, a section that discourages farmers from increasing production when prices are low was taken out on the House floor.

“We have not been told that dairy has been resolved. If it has, I suppose you could argue both ways whether that is a good or bad sign from our perspective,” said Jerry Slominski, an International Dairy Foods Association official.

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