Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts forcefully rejected proposed farm bill reforms that would make the Agriculture Risk Coverage program more attractive and increase payments to farmers in the upper Midwest at the expense of producers in other regions. 

Roberts, speaking at a forum in Manhattan, Kan., said it was important not to help one region of the country “at the expense of another section. We either hang together or hang separately,” Roberts said. 

But he said his draft bill would provide some improvements to ARC that wouldn’t harm other regions. 

Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, have proposed a series of changes to commodity programs aimed at making ARC more attractive to farmers. But the proposal includes the reassignment of base acres according to recent planting practices, and their legislation would offset the cost of making improvements to ARC by lowering some reference prices under the Price Loss Coverage program. 

Under their proposal, base acres that had not been planted to a covered commodity in any year from 2009 to 2016 would be deemed “unassigned” and made ineligible for payments under either ARC or PLC. 

Asked specifically about the possibility of a base update, Roberts said,  “It’s not going to be in the chairman’s bill. It’s not going to be in the Senate bill if I have anything to do with it.”

At another point, Roberts said, “There isn’t any commodity here that is going to be hurt by the Senate bill.”

Roberts reiterated his goal of having his committee act on the bill next Wednesday but he also said that date “could be a moving target.” He said he hoped to have the bill on the Senate floor the following week. 

Roberts said that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had pledged not to file cloture on the bill, a commonly used maneuver that means a 60-vote majority is needed to move the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that he isn't concerned that acting on a farm bill this year could help Democrats who are running for re-election in Republican-leaning states. Those senators include Agriculture Committee members Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakotra and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who appeared at the Kansas forum with Roberts and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., expressed optimism that President Donald Trump would consider re-joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership once the administration has successfully completed ongoing negotiations with China, Canada and Mexico. 

“We need some wins on NAFTA. We need some wins on China. Then I think the president could be persuaded to look at that,” Perdue said, referring to the 11-nation trade agreement from which Trump withdrew the United States soon after taking office. 

Perdue said he believes Trump could be persuaded that the TPP “would be the most effective trading tool against China that we could use.” 

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