“The worst thing that could happen would be to get bogged down in the Senate in a partisan battle between the Democratic proposal and the Republican alternative. Getting nothing out is much worse than having either one or the other make it to the Senate floor,” says Nolan Canon, chairman of the U.S. Rice Producers Association.

Canon, who spoke at the Delta Area Rice Meeting Nov. 29 in Cleveland, Miss., says that while the rice industry would like to see a farm bill passed by year’s end, rice growers, at the very least, want the Senate to begin debating legislation before the new year rolls around.

No matter which farm bill proposal is approved by the Senate, Canon is of the opinion that a workable farm bill will emerge from a Senate-House conference.

“We want legislation out of the Senate this year,” he says. “Congress budgeted a large amount of money for agriculture over the next ten years, but when they come out with the new numbers this spring the money is not going to be there. Right now Congress has the authority to spend that money even though we know the budget is going to shrink tremendously because of the depressed economic situation in the country.

“If we wait until next year to write the farm bill Congress is going to be working with a lot less money than they can work with today.”

Canon said that delays will mean farmers cannot “take advantage of the fact that we have a really good budget number to work with right now. As farmers, our bottom line profit revolves around what type of farm safety net comes out of Washington, D.C.”

If a farm bill does find its way to the President’s desk, Canon says much of the credit will be due to Rep. Larry Combest, chairman of the House Agricultural Committee. “He was the bulldog driving force in getting the legislation initiated. Many people didn’t want to write a farm bill this year, and even the President asked him not to bring it to the House floor.

“But Combest said, ‘Nope, my farmers need help, we need a new farm bill, we’ve got to move on, and life has got to continue.’ He went against the wishes of the President, which is his own party, to bring the farm bill to the House floor.”

In the Senate, the agricultural committee approved Sen. Tom Harkin’s version of a new farm bill, and defeated an amendment by Senators Thad Cochran and Pat Roberts. Cochran and Roberts are likely to again present an alternative farm bill proposal when debate begins in the Senate, possibly as early as today.

“There are both positives and negatives to each one of the bills,” says Canon. “The Harkin Bill (S1731) has some provisions that are fairly different from the House bill, although nothing that couldn’t be compromised out.”

“One of the provisions in the Harkin Bill updates payment bases and program yields. Updating program bases and rice yields, generally speaking for most Delta rice producers, is a good thing,” he says. “We are currently operating off old yield numbers that are, in most cases, much lower than our actual yield numbers. However, updating program bases may not be as attractive to rice growers in some parts of the country, including Texas, Louisiana and California, because they have not been planting all of their bases.

“In those areas of the Delta, though, where rice producers have been planting a high percentage of their base and have seen an yield improvements, this provision may prove to be very attractive.”

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com