Farm Bill Hearings Begin This Week in House Ag Committee

Farm Bill Hearings Begin This Week in House Ag Committee

Lawmakers committed to getting an early start on farm legislation.

It seems like only yesterday that Congress was wrapping up the 2008 Farm Bill and the Farm Service Agency is still working at implementing much of that legislation. However House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is starting hearings for the 2012 Farm Bill this week.

"We're going to have all of the groups come in that are involved in the Farm Bill for three or four days and then hold a series of eight hearings across the country that we're going to do in May," Peterson said. "We've got a couple of weekends where we are going to do four hearings a weekend in all different sections of the country. It doesn't have to be done until 2012 but we think because of all the things that are going on right now it is wise to get started early."

Peterson shared some of his reasons for starting work on the farm bill more than two years before the current one expires.

"We have commodities that are talking to me about the loan rates are too low, the target prices are too low," Peterson said. "We're not going to have the money to raise those significantly, so is there a better way to use the money we're spending to provide a better safety net. Part of it is the budget situation and my concern that we could possibly get drug into some kind of a budget balancing deal next year."

On more than one occasion, Peterson has said he intends to write a baseline bill and not seek additional money. Key farm groups are gearing up for the hearings, but already ag leaders say they expect another rough farm bill. Peterson fully expects cuts ahead and has asked farm groups to come prepared with ways to make them.

American Farm Bureau Farm Policy Specialist Tara Smith says Farm Bureau won't present set in stone proposals, but rather a list of what's working, what's not, and if asked, where cuts can be made. But Smith argues cutting mandatory farm programs, after billions in cuts in the last farm bill, will do very little to reduce the deficit.

Farm Bill hearings open today in
Pennsylvania where a field hearing will review dairy policy. Then Wednesday, in Washington, the House Agriculture Committee will hear from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The session could provide some clues as to what USDA has in mind for farm bill priorities and will certainly give committee members a chance to share their thoughts on current and future farm policy and the path to passing the 2012 Farm Bill. 

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