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Can All Parties Agree On Farm Bill?

Is it remotely possible that the House and Senate can find consensus and deliver a Farm Bill that President Obama will sign into law this year? If that happens, some serious credit will have to be given to both Democrats and Republicans. The Senate bill has received a lot of bipartisan praise from different corners of the country – mostly in the Midwest.

But let’s not fool ourselves here. Anybody connected with Southern row crop agriculture isn’t too happy with the Senate’s bill. By any standard, this bill is geared toward Midwest farmers at the expense of cotton, peanut and rice farmers in the South. When the House Ag Committee returns from the Fourth of July recess, its version of the bill will be marked up and Southern farmers will be watching closely.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) accurately predicted that the House and Senate bills would be quite different. When he spoke to the Texas Cotton Ginners Board Meeting earlier this year in Lubbock, he spoke of the need to protect the interests of Southern farmers. He and his counterparts on the House Ag Committee will try to find a way to do just that by increasing the safety net for cotton, rice and peanut farmers. The crop insurance program currently included in the Senate Farm Bill simply doesn’t provide enough protection for Southern farmers.

If there is any encouraging news for cotton, rice and peanut farmers, it’s the recent remarks from House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) Both have vowed to find a way to come up with a program that will help protect Southern farm interests. Peterson made a lot of friends in the South when he showed extraordinary leadership in helping craft the last Farm Bill when he was the House Ag Committee chairman.

The current Farm Bill expires in September, and it would certainly create problems for farmers trying to make long-term plans if the new Farm Bill isn’t signed into law. However, if all else fails, and the Senate and House can’t work out their differences in the new legislation, some senators and congressmen have suggested that the current law simply be extended for a year. That would mean a new Congress would have to start all over again in 2013. Does anybody really want to do that?

Our view is that there is a sense of urgency in both the House and Senate to deliver a bill this fall. As we said earlier, if that happens, some true bipartisanship will have occurred – and that hasn’t happened lately in Congress.

Let’s hope for the best.