The House list of farm bill conferees has been released and negotiations with the Senate over the long-time-coming legislation are expected to begin this week.

The one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill expired at the end of September.If a new farm bill isn’t in place by Jan. 1, farm programs will revert to 1930s/1940s permanent law.

Republican House conferees include Oklahoma’s Frank Lucas, Steve King of Iowa, Randy Neugebauer of Texas, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Mike Conaway of Texas, Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, Austin Scott of Georgia, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Martha Roby of Alabama, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Jeff Denham of California, Rodney Davis of Illinois and non-committee members Steve Southerland of Florida, Ed Royce of California, Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, Dave Camp of Michigan, and Sam Johnson of Texas. Representing the House Democrats will be Minnesota’sCollin Peterson,Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Jim Costa of California, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Suzan DelBene of Washington, Gloria Negrete McLeod of California, Filemon Vela of Texas and Marcia Fudge of Ohio. Non-committee Democrats include Reps. Eliot Engel of New York and Sandy Levin of Michigan.

"I am pleased to be at this point in the farm bill process where we are about to begin negotiations with our friends in the Senate and put a final bill together,” said Rep. Frank, Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, following the conferee naming. “This has been a long and challenging process, but that does not discount the product we have achieved with billions of dollars in savings and reforms, and policy that works for all of agriculture all across the country. There are challenging issues yet to overcome, but we have a solid team of negotiators in place. I am confident we can reach consensus and send a five-year farm bill to the president."

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, sounded a hopeful tone for the conference but continued to chide the GOP over contentious votes in the lead-up. “Appointing conferees might be a sign that, after repeatedly delaying and undermining the Agriculture Committee’s work, Republican leaders are finally getting serious about the farm bill. Conferees are committed to working together and getting a farm bill done but bringing divisive resolutions to a vote and appointing conferees outside the Agriculture Committee has made our jobs a lot harder.”

Among Peterson’s complaints is the way House leadership passed the body’s farm bill version by breaking apart the nutrition and farm programs. This approach not only showed a willingness to break apart a decades-old coalition of urban/agriculture farm bill interests but would require nutrition program spending be pared $40 billion over the next decade.

The Senate farm bill, meanwhile, calls for $4 billion in nutrition program cuts. Somehow, the conferees will have to bridge the wide gap between the two bottom lines.

Also sure to be on the table is several crop insurance reform proposals. The Senate would force farmers to use conservation techniques in order to be eligible for insurance premium subsidies. Another Senate requirement aims to force higher crop insurance premiums on producers with an annual adjusted gross income higher than $750,000.

 “The table will be for us to work on a long-term farm bill that is equitable to all producers in all regions of the country,” said Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “The task before us is urgent. I am ready and optimistic about working with our House counterparts to resolve significant differences and put in place policies that work well for the agriculture industry, American consumers and the economy.

“Our farmers and ranchers, and the small businesses that depend on the rural economy, need the certainty that we can provide by finishing the 2013 farm bill.”

Response

Similarly upbeat, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said, “Senators worked across the aisle to overwhelmingly pass bipartisan farm bills the last two years in a row. If that same bipartisanship endures in the conference committee, we will cut tens of billions of dollars in unnecessary spending, make major reforms to improve crop insurance and strengthen other risk management tools, streamline and strengthen conservation and nutrition programs, and create jobs by investing in rural America.”

Among advocacy groups commenting on the farm bill progress, Danny Murphy, American Soybean Association president, called on the conferees to take into account recent input provided by the ASA on several key issues, including the bill’s commodity, trade, and other titles. “ASA has given well-researched and well-documented feedback on multiple provisions in each chamber’s bill,” said Murphy, a Canton, Miss., producer. “Each input has been made with the end goal of protecting and advancing a dynamic soybean industry and a larger agriculture sector that has been among the brightest of bright spots as our economy continues to recover. Soy is the country’s largest farm export and second largest crop, and the policies established by the conference in the final bill must not lead to skewed planting decisions, production distortions and potential trade challenges.”

Murphy added: “We’re well past the eleventh hour. The lack of any current farm legislation places farmers at a huge risk, and it’s time our lawmakers come together and get this thing done. This is a great next step, but there is much work left to do.”

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 Coming up with acceptable dairy policy changes has also been hard for Congress.The National Milk Producers FederationJim Mulhernsaid, “NMPF will be working in the coming days to remind both the Senate and House conferees of the importance of a balanced and cost-effective dairy program. The Senate’s bipartisan Dairy Security Act is the only program designed to both help farmers when they need it most, while also limiting taxpayers’ liability through its market stabilization mechanism. Without the market stabilization program, farmers will continue to suffer prolonged periods of poor margins, while taxpayers will subsidize artificially-low milk prices.

“The Dairy Security Act protects farmers of all sizes, allows for growth, and keeps taxpayer costs in check. The alternative is an irresponsible budget-buster. We strongly encourage the agriculture conferees to support the dairy title language in the Senate farm bill, and to include its provisions in the final package.”