• Nutrition program funding.

A major sticking point for the conferees -- and a sure bet to be a hot debate topic once the bill hits both chamber floors -- was how to handle nutrition program cuts. Food stamps currently go to nearly 48 million Americans and make up 80 percent of the USDA budget. The House farm bill called for some $40 billion in cuts to nutrition programs over a decade. The Senate version called for cuts a tenth of that amount. The conference compromise was $8 billion.

Lucas said the nutrition program reforms are “reasonable. While they try to address loopholes left over from 1996, they nonetheless will assure our fellow Americans who need help … they will get the help they need. That safety net is maintained.”

  • Research.

“We have a commitment on a new foundation on research, a $200 million commitment,” said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “That can be balanced with $200 million in investment from the private sector.”

  • Beginning farmers.

“The one area of actual expansion (at USDA), is creating a new office to coordinate with veterans coming home,” said Stabenow. “Many of them are from small communities who want to go into farming. We’re expanding support for them.”

While there is much relief from most quarters that the legislation finally left conference, opponents have already begun beating their war drums.

On Monday, a coalition of livestock groups urged lawmakers to reject the bill due to costs associated with mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). Stabenow claimed “surprise” at the opposition after the “same groups supported the Senate bill in 2012. … They came in wanting to repeal COOL. (Lucas) and I assessed this and the votes weren’t there in either body to do that. … I’m very disappointed they aren’t choosing to understand what a huge win this bill is for livestock.”

Lucas said the issues around COOL were potential deal-breakers. “We had to make a decision. Do we want a farm bill? Or do we want to take on an issue that could potentially blow the process sky-high?”

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And there remain plenty of questions heading into the votes, Lucas acknowledged. “The challenge has always been in the House. My friends on the very conservative wing wouldn’t support anything -- they don’t want to spend any money on anybody for reason on any occasion. My friends on the left don’t really want to spend a lot of money on rural America on infrastructure issues -- they’re more social policy-oriented people.

“Can we create in the House a majority that is a coalition of the middle? My gut feeling, my reading of my colleagues, is ‘yes.’ … I’ve always known the folks at both ends of the spectrum won’t support us. But it’s the coalition of folks in the middle that want to get things done, who believe in safety nets, who believe in having enough to eat, who care about the future, who will pass this bill.”