Senate panel to begin work on farm bill

Jun 11, 2010
by DTN

The Senate Agriculture Committee will begin a series of hearings ahead of drafting a new U.S. farm law by examining “our most vital resource—our food supply,” said chairman Blanche Lincoln last Tuesday.

In a statement, Lincoln announced the decision to call hearings on the law due in 2012 and listed topics for four of them. The first, on June 30, is “Maintaining our domestic food supply through a strong U.S. farm policy.”

The House Agriculture Committee began farm bill hearings in April. Its chairman says a fundamental switch in farm supports may be necessary. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the new law should give priority to rural economic development.

Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, and Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Republican leader on the Senate Agriculture Committee, favor the traditional approach to farm supports.

Written every few years, farm bills are broad legislation covering crop subsidy, land stewardship, public nutrition, biofuels, agricultural research, farm export and rural development programs. The 2008 farm law was estimated to cost $289 billion over five years, with public nutrition getting two-thirds of the money.

Crop subsidy and land stewardship programs will cost about $10 billion this fiscal year, says USDA.

Lincoln initially planned to defer work on the 2012 farm bill until next year. But the committee must be prepared if the House committee, with its rapid start, be gins writing a bill in early 2011, said a spokeswoman.

In 2008, Lincoln and Chambliss fought proposals to limit payments to big operators. The 2008 farm law was the first to ban payments to the wealthiest Americans, those with more than $500,000 in adjusted gross income a year.

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson says lawmakers should consider alternatives that protect farmer revenue. Crop subsidies now respond to low prices but not to poor yields.

The June 30 hearing on farm policy will be in Washington, D.C. Dates and locations for three following hearings will be announced later. The topics will be rural development, land and wildlife stewardship, and renewable fuels. — DTN