There are just weeks remaining before a permanent law hits in January without a farm bill on the books.
True public hearings wont start until the middle of next month. Check out some of the highlight's and opening statements below, or watch the committee meeting video from C-SPAN.
Chairman Frank Lucas made it clear that the committee has a responsibility to put policy in place that is good for farmers, ranchers, consumers and those who have hit difficult times. When the committee reaches consensus - Lucas says the final production will provide major savings to the Treasury, significant reforms to policy and yet still provide a safety net for not only the production of food and fiber - but also to ensure Americans have enough food to eat.
Lucas stated no one taking part in this effort will like everything in the bill. But he said they have a responsibility to reach consensus and do what is best for all of agriculture and rural America.
In her opening statement to the farm bill conference committee - Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow said the farm bill approved by the Senate represents the biggest reforms to agricultural policy in decades. She noted it ends direct payments, tightens payment limits, modernizes dairy policy and stops people who aren’t actively engaged in farming from getting taxpayer subsidies.
House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson expressed hope Wednesday that the first meeting of the Farm Bill Conference Committee was the beginning of the end to a process he first started almost four years ago. He said it’s long past time to finish the bill.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman says the first formal conference committee talks on the farm bill has renewed his group’s optimism that we are nearing the end of a three-plus year trek. Now that the legislation and process is back in the hands of the Senate and House Agriculture Committee leaders and members - he says Farm Bureau is eager to do all it can to ensure the new farm bill is on the President’s desk as soon as possible this year.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson says we’re closer to a final farm bill than we’ve been the past two years. Johnson says NFU has told members of the committee and their staff the importance of maintaining permanent law, establishing fixed reference prices for commodity programs, enacting an inventory management tool as part of the dairy safety net, providing 900-million dollars in mandatory funding for renewable energy efforts, opposing unnecessary legislative changes to the country of origin labeling law and including adequate funding levels for the Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program.
It likely comes as no surprise that 39 Democratic Senators sent a letter to farm bill conferees urging them to fight against harmful cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The letter also asks them to reject all eligibility changes that would make it harder for low-income children to get free school meals. The letter didn’t rule out all cuts to nutrition programs - with the Senators expressing support for efforts to improve the integrity of SNAP. According to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow - the Senate’s four-billion dollars in cuts over 10 years are limited to integrity issues. Democrats in the House and anti-hunger advocates - meanwhile - are protesting the expiration of the increased food stamp benefit included in the Recovery Act. Michigan Representative John Conyers has introduced a bill to extend the increase through 2016.
Nebraska Representative Jeff Fortenberry and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley have encouraged members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee to retain key farm policy reforms regarding federal farm payment limitations. The House and Senate farm bills approved earlier this year both included new farm payment limit requirements.
The Teamsters Union announced its support of the Dairy Security Act included in the Senate-passed farm bill. Union General President James Hoffa - in a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees - wrote that their original objection to the DSA during the House debate and committee mark-up was driven by concern for members who work in dairy processing - that the supplies of milk to the processors could dry up under a supply management regime like the DSA as proposed in the House.