Congress prepares for 2012 farm bill push

Jan 29, 2010
by WLJ

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-MN, said he plans to begin hearings on the 2012 farm bill in March or April of this year and that he is determined to write a bipartisan bill that is within the funding baseline that exists in 2012.

The funding baseline is the amount of money the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) determines would be spent on all programs in the farm bill if the same programs were to continue after 2012. CBO projects the funding levels based on spending in programs in past years.

Peterson said at least initially, he expects each major farm bill section—the farm program, conservation and nutrition—to stay within its 2012 baseline.

Peterson told a joint meeting of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and U.S. Wheat Associates, a trade promotion group, last Monday that he does not want to go to other committees to seek additional funding as he did in 2008 because “it’s an uphill battle to work with people who have no understanding of agriculture.”

He added he is starting early because “it takes a lot of work and a lot of time to get a bipartisan product,” and he wants to finish the bill by the end of September 2012 when the current farm program expires. He noted that Congress has often failed to finish the farm bill before the current one expires. Peterson said he and Senate Agriculture Chairman Blanche Lincoln, D- AR, are determined to make the deadline this time.

Peterson said he wants to hold two or three days of hearings in Washington this spring and then hold hearings around the country.

Peterson said the hearings will focus on “what is right and working well” from the 2008 farm bill, “a critique on how rule-making has gone,” and how to construct a safety net that works.

After the speech, Peterson said he does not expect the budget for nutrition programs to be an issue because the nutrition baseline has grown because millions of people have signed up for supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits.

Reuters reported that the future of the $5 billion per year direct payment subsidy for farmers will be part of the debate. Karl Scronce, president of NAWG, asked Peterson if the direct payment would survive in the 2012 law.

“These are things we need to talk through,” responded Peterson. He said reformers were likely to attack the direct payment, a guaranteed annual payment created in 1996 and based on a farm’s past production of grains, cotton and soybeans. If farm groups back the subsidy as the best method for providing support, “I’ll be there” to fight for it, said Peterson.

Critics say the direct payment goes predominantly to big farmers and has no connection to financial conditions. Defenders say it was an essential part of the 1996 removal of most federal controls on plantings.

“Payment limits, in my opinion, are not reform. They are an ideology that some people have that’s been around,” said Peterson. He said the limits amounted to an attempt to limit farm size. “I am for whatever size farm that works.”

Peterson said he had no preconceived agenda for the 2012 farm bill, although he believes in the longer run, the U.S. farm program will move away from crop subsidies and toward assuring farmer revenue.

“We need something that can get you back your cost of production so you can farm next year ... We’re not doing that now,” he said. But it is difficult to fashion such a system, he said. — Jerry Hagstrom, DTN