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Farm groups press Senate leaders for farm bill passage

More than 100 major farm, conservation, forestry and rural development groups sent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a letter late Friday urging them to bring the farm bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee to the floor for consideration as quickly as possible.

But key cotton, rice, peanut and anti-hunger groups did not sign the letter, and Senate aides are still struggling behind the scenes to figure out a way to address complaints from those farm groups that the bill does not meet their needs.

The letter, signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the United Fresh Produce Association and others, but not the National Cotton Council, the USA Rice Federation or peanut groups, noted that the stakeholders “need to know details of the programs which will be in effect in 2013 as soon as possible.”

“Timely action will also enhance prospects for completing new legislation this year rather than needing to extend current program authorities,” the letter said.

“The Senate committee bill already contributes agriculture’s fair share toward deficit reduction by reducing spending by $23 billion,” the letter continued.

“As Chairwoman (Debbie) Stabenow, D-Mich., said during the committee’s markup, ‘Farm bills are never easy, and a farm bill like this is especially hard when we’re making serious and needed reforms while also cutting the deficit by $23 billion,’ ” the letter said.

The letter also quoted ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who said “We’ve performed our duty to taxpayers by cutting deficit spending while at the same time strengthening and preserving the programs so important to agriculture and rural America.”

The groups also hinted but did not say directly that the bill is important to reauthorize the food stamp program.

“This is one piece of legislation upon which all Americans depend, urban as well as rural,” said the letter.

Neither the Food Research and Action Center nor Feeding America, which have criticized a $4 billion cut to the food stamp budget over 10 years in the bill, signed the letter. House proposals on food stamps would cut the budget for that program, now officially known as the supplemental nutrition assistance program or SNAP by a much larger amount.

Steve Wellman

Steve Wellman
The letter was distributed late Friday by the American Soybean Association and today by the National Farmers Union.

“Last week, Chairwoman Stabenow, ranking member Roberts and the entire Senate Agriculture Committee took a huge step forward in advancing this key legislation for America’s farmers,” ASA President Steve Wellman, a soybean farmer from Syracuse, Neb., said in a news release. “We commend them for their work and we look to the Senate to keep the progress moving by bringing the bill to the floor.”

<br />Roger Johnson

Roger Johnson
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson signaled that the Senate should move forward, even though not all groups are satisfied.

“Some farm bill programs have already expired, and the rest expire on Sept. 30," Johnson said in a news release. “It is critical to pass a farm bill as soon as possible so that Americans have the agriculture, conservation, environmental, forestry, hunger and rural development programs that they need. While many of us will continue to work for improvements in the bill, we all agree that we need a farm bill this year.”
Dana Peterson

Dana Peterson
Dana Peterson, executive director of the National Association of Wheat Growers, said in an interview over the weekend that wheat growers favor sending the bill to President Barack Obama before the August congressional recess.

Peterson said she is going to “push like the devil” to get the Senate to take up the bill and the House Agriculture Committee to write legislation because her growers want a bill signed before they make decisions about planting winter wheat. She noted that her Oklahoma members who are in the district of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., will face the planting decision issue first.