WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — A spokesman for U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas told World Grain sister publication Milling and Baking News on May 1 that he believes there will be two separate farm bills — one from the U.S. House of Representatives and one from the U.S. Senate — that will ultimately need to be reconciled and passed by both legislative bodies. Current law expires in September 2012.
The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 on April 26 by a vote of 16-5. Mark-up and passage of the bill took only a few hours. The committee trumpeted deficit reduction of $23 billion, bipartisan support and the end of direct payments to farmers.
Despite a sizable majority of committee members who voted to pass the bill, there was some serious opposition, said Patrick Creamer, spokesman for Boozman, one of the five senators to vote against the committee bill.
Some members of the agriculture committee took issue with the new program of crop insurance that replaced direct payments. They argued that planned crop insurance would unfairly favor corn and soybean growers at the expense of commodities grown in the Southern United States, such as peanuts and rice.
The logical next step is for the bill to go to the floor of the Senate, Creamer said, but no one knows when that will be.
He said Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada has given no indication when the bill would be introduced for debate in the full senate.
“It’s really up in the air right now,” Creamer said.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, has indicated the bill may be debated on the Senate floor before Memorial Day recess.
Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas is pleased a bipartisan bill was reported out of committee with a vote of 16-5. He’ll work to continue the debate and would prefer a bill rather than an extension.
Creamer said Boozman is likely to introduce one or more amendments to the bill.
“There’s a lot that he likes” in the proposed legislation, but he wants to see if changes can be made in the way certain commodities receive crop insurance, Creamer said.
He added that he knew of no scheduled hearings yet on the farm bill in the House of Representatives. He said he expected the House will draft its own version because of sticking points about how the new system of crop insurance should work.
Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has voiced serious reservations about the current proposed legislation because he believes the safety net is not strong enough for all crops. He has said some farmers will get much less from crop insurance than they used to get from direct payments, while farmers of other crops, such as corn and soybeans, may reap higher payments in the new system than they did in the old.
A House of Representatives 2012 farm bill would have to make it through committee before being voted on by the full House of Representatives and the full Senate.