Senate and House farm bill conferees will meet for the first time on Wednesday (October 30) afternoon. The meeting comes on the heels of the White House calling for a new farm bill before January.

Coming to a deal will be difficult on several fronts. Chief among them will be reconciling the House’s call for $40 billion in nutrition program cuts compared to the Senate’s $4 billion.

As the food stamp issues play out, something to watch for is how Florida Rep. Steve Southerland reacts. Southerland, who has close ties to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, is largely blamed for the failure of the House to pass a farm bill early this summer. At the eleventh hour of the floor debate, his hard-line insistence on massive cuts to the nutrition title along with work requirements is credited with driving expected “yes” Democratic votes to the nay column.

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Weeks later, the House only passed its farm bill legislation by splitting the commodity and nutrition titles. It is unknown how House Republicans will react when the compromise out of the conference returns without the $40 billion in nutrition program cuts.

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With direct payments ending, another major thing for conferees to iron out is competing crop insurance proposals.

Dairy policy also faces hurdles. Just hours prior to the first conference the National Milk Producers Federation reiterated its support for the Senate’s approach. In a press release, the NMPF said, “The Senate’s bipartisan Dairy Security Act is the only option that will provide help to farmers when they need it most, while also limiting taxpayers’ exposure through its market stabilization mechanism. It’s an important safety net to farmers when they need it and not an underfunded liability to the government when the program is in operation.

“In contrast, the proposal that finally emerged from the House is a bad trick: it would be fiscally irresponsible and ineffective. Lacking the Senate’s market stabilization program, the House approach would cause farmers to suffer prolonged periods of poor margins, while taxpayers subsidize dairy processors through artificially-low milk prices.”

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