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Farm Bureau, Farmers Union leaders optimistic for farm bill in 2013

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 12/09/2013 1:42 PM

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MINNEAPOLIS — National farm policy watchers from both Farm Bureau and Farmers Union are optimistic a farm bill will pass in 2013.

There is a sense that three years is long enough, said Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations for American Farm Bureau Federation. Thatcher spoke Nov. 23 during the 95th annual meeting of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation.

Chandler Goule, vice president of government affairs for National Farmers Union, said the big four lawmakers continue to meet to work on differences in the House and Senate versions of the legislation.

The big four are the chairs and ranking members of the agriculture committees in both chambers. They are Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

Goule, speaking Nov. 24 at the Minnesota Farmers Union 72nd annual convention, said some of the biggest differences are in the nutrition and commodity titles.

The biggest challenge is in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Thatcher said. The House bill contains $40 billion in cuts, while the Senate bill contains $4 billion.

Other areas of disagreement include the Dairy Security Act, the Steve King amendment, planted or base acres, Country of Origin Labeling and conservation compliance in order to receive crop insurance subsidies.

Farmers Union gave a list of their priorities to the committee and Goule highlighted six. The priorities are keeping permanent law, setting fixed reference prices, mandatory funding for the energy title, including the dairy stabilization program, opposing changes to Country of Origin Labeling and support for farmers markets.

Six or seven legislative days are available in December to pass the conference committee report and get it to the president, Goule said. Both chambers are on recess for Thanksgiving. The Senate comes back the second week of December and the House is back the first week.

Minnesota is well-represented on the farm bill conference committee, with Peterson, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz serving on the committee. Texas, California and Minnesota have the most representation on the conference committee, Goule said.

Thatcher said it's important to keep nutrition spending and the farm bill together. The move to split the farm bill is an effort to make more cuts from both, she said. The marriage has worked really well, she said. It garners support from members who don't have agriculture in their districts; a quarter of House members have zero farmers in their district.