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2012 farm bill discussions under way

Though it may seem distant, wrangling has already begun over the 2012 farm bill. Collin Peterson, (D-MN), head of the House Agriculture Committee, says the committee has started the budgeting process and will soon begin hearings on the 2012 farm bill.

The National Association of Wheat Growers has identified direct payments and a robust federally subsidized crop insurance program as major priorities of the 2012 farm bill, and NAWG officers are already working with other commodity groups to outline a farm bill framework. NAWG has also developed an online survey (www.surveymonkey.com/s/NAWGDataMining) to further define NAWG's position on federal farm policy.

Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) says Peterson may be gambling by opening up the 2012 farm bill discussions so soon. Roberts was the featured speaker at the March 31 gathering of the Kansas City Agribusiness Council.

"I think it's too early to do this. You can look at it two ways. You can bring up the farm bill and say, 'let's get to work on it now and prevent bad things from happening,' or you can bring it up and attract more attention and therefore, more people will get their knives out," says Roberts, who adds that the national media is always quick to target agriculture spending when studying ways to reduce federal spending. "They don't realize the amount of cuts we've already gone through," he says. "I am not very optimistic in this climate of wanting to raise the farm bill up right now. Hearings are alright, but I don't want to be a target."

Yet, Roberts says Peterson is wise to determine how much money will be needed in the 2012 farm bill.

"What he really wants to do is find a way to increase the baseline for spending in regards to the Department of Agriculture. I hope these funds will be directed to farmers and ranchers, as opposed to the ever-increasing spending in other areas in the ag budget which are many and diverse. They're all good programs, just like the one on child nutrition in which we authorized $2.2 billion. But we took it from EQIP. And we have at least 1,400 applications for EQIP that are standing in line. It's the most popular environmental program we have," Roberts says.

While he voted for the 2008 farm bill, Roberts--a veteran of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees over his 30-year Congressional career--says political posturing over that legislation was unlike anything he's seen before.

"There were 61 members of the farm bill caucus, which is unheard of. Usually there are probably 15 members, and these are people who know farmers, commodities, the different geographical areas and they know how the farm bill works. It looked like the bar scene from Star Wars. It was nutty," he recalls.

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