With a scheduled Wednesday mark-up of the House farm bill looming, the Arkansas Farm Bureau has endorsed the legislation. The House version – titled the “Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM)” – would cut around $35 billion over a decade.

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“The House’s proposal offers a choice between Price Loss Coverage and Revenue Loss Coverage that will enable farmers to determine what best fits their particular situation,” said Randy Veach, Arkansas Farm Bureau President, in a letter sent to House Agriculture Committee leadership on Monday. “FARRM’s focus is on addressing serious and sustained losses, which is the intended purpose of a farm bill. This bill acknowledges the diversity of agriculture and recognizes that a one-size-fits-all approach is not workable for all farmers and ranchers.

“We feel the options laid out in the FARRM bill will provide planting and production flexibility. The House bill’s Price Loss Coverage and Revenue Loss Coverage provides a better system of support for southern agriculture than the Senate proposal and allows producers to plant for the market. However, we are obviously disappointed in the loss of

direct payments as a risk management tool.”

To read the full letter, scroll down.

Veach and Jeffery Hall, Arkansas Farm BureauAssociate Director of National Affairs, are currently in Washington, D.C., meeting with Arkansas lawmakers prior to the mark-up.

“I was just in a meeting where (Oklahoma Rep.) Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, addressed the crowd,” said Hall on Tuesday morning. The chairman “was confident the price protection option would be maintained through committee as well as on the House floor and through conference. He’s optimistic that the farmers will have a choice. We were extremely pleased to hear that.”

While many hope the House mark-up may copy the Senate’s and be finished quickly, the legislation’s route forward remains out of focus. “We just don’t know about getting time for the legislation on the House floor.”

With so much optimism from lawmakers who would be a part of the House/Senate conference, is it Hall’s sense that many of the potential bumpy issues have already been smoothed out?

“One of the encouraging thoughts moving toward finding common ground is the (agriculture committee) chairmen and ranking members basically had a conference during last year’s ‘super committee’ report. They all know each other’s personal preferences going forward.

“Of course the conference committee would add a few members from the House and Senate. But there isn’t a lot of difference between the House and Senate farm bill versions except for cuts to the nutrition programs and the Commodity Title. The other titles are very similar. They have to deal with two titles in question. That eases some of the conference frictions, I believe.”

What about the hard-liners? Will the House face more issues from coming amendments than anything else?

“It is exactly correct to worry about that -- the extremes on both sides. The Tea Party Republicans want more than $16 billion in cuts to the Nutrition Title. Then, Democrats from the big cities want no cuts to nutrition programs.

“That dynamic will be a challenge as this bill moves forward, especially on the House floor with the open process of amendments. It will be difficult.”

Amendments must be filed by Tuesday evening to make it to mark-up.

Lawmakers “are holding amendments close to the vest. In fact, Chairman Lucas did not indicate anything he is planning to do. He’s keeping his strategic cards close.

“We expect there will be nutrition amendments from Democrats to do away with the cuts to those programs.”

Does Hall believe that House Democrats would be willing to go along with the Senate’s $4 billion in cuts to nutrition programs? Or are they against any cuts?

“Both. Some of them don’t want any cuts. But I think a larger majority willing to go along with $4 billion in cuts compared to the (House’s proposal) to cut $16 billion.”
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, has repeatedly said $16 billion in nutrition program cuts has no chance. “He’s said it will be fixed in conference, and I agree. But (Peterson) said Chairman Lucas had to propose such cuts to appease the far-right fiscal conservative Tea Party freshmen.”

Hall also expects amendments on the sugar program “to roll back to 2008 levels. I’ve never really lobbied on sugar -- Arkansas doesn’t have any. But when you look at moving back to the 2008 levels, you’d eliminate the use of some excess sugar going into ethanol plants. That, in turn, puts more pressure on corn stocks and, as a result, the livestock industry. So, we’ll be bringing that up with” the Arkansas delegation.

Has there been any indication that Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, House Majority Leader, will agree to schedule time for the farm bill on the House floor?

“I believe Cantor” and Ohio Rep. John Boehner, Speaker of the House, “haven’t thought about giving the farm bill any floor time. And, in my opinion, they won’t think about that until a bill is passed in committee. That’s where the pressure point will be for them – a committee vote will be important to providing floor time.”

Also of interest is a fledgling effort -- in the form of a letter making its way around the House -- to split the farm bill in two. The result: separate bills for nutrition programs and farm programs.

“I hope no one signs that letter,” said Hall. “We feel at Farm Bureau that if you split the farm bill we’ll never get a bill. The votes aren’t there.

“A while back they put the nutrition and farm programs together in order to get a farm bill passed. There were so many people moving away from production agriculture that we needed to garner more support.”