The appointment of a conference committee by both the House and Senate represents progress, says Megan Ritter, Director of the Public Policy Team at Indiana Farm Bureau. She said, for the most part, many of the differences between the House and Senate versions have been worked out, “This has been a 2 year process and a lot of the details have been worked out, but there are several big issues that have not.” There are two big issues that remain, most notably the food and nutrition section on which the House and Senate are tens of billions of dollars apart on funding. Ritter says an agreement will have to be reached in order for the Farm Bill to pass, “It would be too risky to not include a nutrition portion in the Farm Bill. At the end of the day, you have to have the votes to pass the bill and that will not happen without an agreement on the food and nutrition section.”
Another issue that has Farm Bureau concerned is restrictions on crop insurance that require conservation compliance and higher premiums for larger farmers. Ritter said crop insurance must be the cornerstone of any commodity section, “Anything that undermines that we are concerned about. We are working to make sure we have the best crop insurance product available, and that the most people and acres can participate.” She also worries that the government shutdown and debt limit issue may poison the atmosphere in Washington to the point that no agreement can be reached on the Farm Bill.
House and Senate negotiators could meet for the first time next week to work on the new $500 billion U.S. Farm Bill, which more than a year past due. “Depending on the House and Senate schedules, the first, formal conference meeting could be scheduled as early as next week,” said an aide to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas. Under Congressional protocol, Lucas will chair the conference committee formed to write a compromise bill between the House and Senate versions. Lucas says he is confident of consensus on a five-year bill.