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Vilsack Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst



Tom Vilsack
Tom Vilsack

With just a week before the current farm bill extension runs out, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is hoping for continued progress on a new Farm Bill, but planning for what happens if it does not occur. The House passed a separate nutrition bill last week clearing the way for a conference committee with the Senate to combine farm and food programs into a final Farm Bill package.  Vilsack says the conference committee faces a tough job, putting two very different Farm Bill packages together, “It will all depend on if those conferees want to get a new Farm Bill done or just want to score some political points.”  But the Secretary could resist in trying to make a few political points of his own, “It seems that this was a move to placate the most extreme elements of the House — fair enough — now that’s over let’s get to work on passing a new Farm Bill.”


Vilsack said continued delays in passing a Farm Bill will only hurt American farmers and American agriculture, “If you are a farmer who wants to buy a new tractor or are thinking about hiring more workers, you are uncertain about the future because Congress has given you no direction on policy.” He added that this will slow the momentum American agriculture has had the past few years in increasing production and setting records for exports.


Vilsack says USDA is preparing for two scenarios, one with a new Farm Bill and one without, “We are going to do our job at USDA in two respects: one, we are going to be prepared to help the conference committee bridge the gap between the House and Senate version; and, two, we are going to begin to figure out how to implement permanent law should it be needed.”  He added his department has a number of creative ideas to offer to the House and Senate to bridge the differences and get the committee to a yes vote.


Listen to the entire HAT interview here.


Likely Another Week Before House Appoints Farm Bill Conferees

While House lawmakers will return to Capitol Hill Wednesday, House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas says House leaders likely won’t name farm bill conferees until early October. That’s because of the steps that need to take place before conferees can be appointed. The House will first need to pass a procedural motion to combine the farm-only farm bill passed earlier with the just-passed nutrition bill. Once that is done, Lucas says the legislation will go to the Senate. The Senate does have the option of accepting the measure, but it’s expected they will reject it and request a conference. Lucas says the House will agree. The Senate will have to re-appoint conferees and then the House will appoint its conferees. That’s why Lucas expects it will be next week before conferees are appointed. Still, Lucas is confident the conference will begin shortly. He says the hurdles have been cleared — there’s just procedural stuff to work through.

Once the two sides go to conference, there are big differences to address. The nutrition bill passed by the House would cut almost $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over 10 years. The Senate farm bill would cut just $4 billion. Lucas says the two chambers took a different policy approach to the commodity title as well. He says the Senate has a major focus on what many call shallow loss crop revenue. Lucas says the House plan includes a shallow loss option and a price protection option.