Monday, April 19, 2010

Hearings on 2012 Farm Bill begin Wednesday

While this fall's elections could change the political leadership of the House and Senate agriculture committees, House Chairman Collin Peterson will launch the first in a series of hearings this week to discuss the 2012 Farm Bill. "What I've told people is that they should put everything on the table and we'll look at it," Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, told reporters Friday. "I think it's a useful exercise to take a look at how we're doing, and does it make sense for the future?" The first hearing is set for Wednesday with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Allison Winter of Environment & Energy Daily reports.

Peterson pointed to crop insurance and cotton subsidies as key issues but said he has no "rigid agenda" for the bill. He added he wants to be open to a wide-range of ideas, including "possibly even changing the long-held, controversial direct payments program, which pays farmers regardless of crop or sales price," Winters reports. Last month the Senate Agriculture Committee approved legislation that would cut funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, one of the farm bill's biggest conservation programs, but Peterson warned the bill would face stiff competition in the house. (Read more, subscription required)

Another subscription-only service, DTN, reports in its Washington Insider section, “There is a growing conviction in Washington that the next Farm Bill must be fundamentally different than the one passed in 2008 — mainly because the sector continues to change, and now is fundamentally different than it was only a few years ago. In general, farm policy reforms occur when producers come to believe programs don’t work and either vote them out, or become so critical of their operations that they fall of their own weight. Observers suggest that such a time may be nearing for the current program structure. For one thing, the commodity programs now are providing little countercyclical support for a large share of the agricultural producers, and not much at all when it is needed.” Other factors include pressure to reduce the federal deficit, trade disputes over cotton and other programs, and “emergence of the renewable fuel markets" and their effect on feed costs for livestock producers.

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