exerpted from Agriculture Online story by Dan Looker, Successful Farming Business Editor
Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), who remains a strong supporter of putting a firm cap on commodity program payments, said Thursday that he may not include a strict payment limit in the farm bill he will submit to his committee.
"We'll have a vigorous debate. We'll probably have it in the committee and we'll have it on the floor (of the full Senate)," he told reporters Thursday.
Harkin was asked to respond to a comment that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson made at the Farm Bureau convention in Salt Lake City this week. Peterson said passing a farm bill would be difficult without support from Southern members of Congress, who have opposed capping program payments.
Harkin said that "in a sense, he's right" referring to Peterson's recognition of the regional politics of the payment limits issue. Some large commercial corn and wheat farmers would be affected by a firm cap, but cotton and rice farmers are likely to be the hardest hit. If Harkin left this issue out of his bill, it might make writing a new farm bill easier.
"To be frank with you, I haven't made a decision whether to include it (payment limits) in the chairman's mark," he said, referring to the bill he would submit to the committee to consider.
"Maybe the best way to do this is on the floor" of the Senate.
Harkin believes that payment limits have broad bipartisan support in the Senate, so the farm bill could be amended to include them when the full Senate considers the bill.
"I think that it's clear. Payment limits are going to happen," he said.
Harkin made it clear, though, that he does intend to make major changes in the next farm bill.
"This new farm bill is not going to be your old-fashioned farm bill as we've known it in the past," he said.
Harkin wants to spend a lot more money on conservation programs and on developing bioenergy. He'd like to have programs that help farmers make a transition to growing energy crops such as switchgrass, one of many possible sources of cellulosic ethanol.
Harkin said that it won't be possible to finish writing a farm bill until the Senate decides how much money to spend on it. He'd like the Senate Budget Committee to add back some $16 billion that has been saved from current commodity program spending, compared to projections when the 2002 bill was passed. And he'd like the $4 billion that the Administration cut from conservation spending made available for the farm bill. He said the committee can't do much on the farm bill before having budget numbers for potential spending, probably at the end of March or in April.
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