WASHINGTON, Feb. 29 – Although  a lot of work remains to be completed on the 2012 Farm Bill, Sen. John Thune, R-SD, confirmed reports that the process is moving much quicker than many had anticipated.  As Agri-Pulse published in our e-newsletter earlier today, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, is telling members that she’d like to markup the bill before April 8.

Although Thune said he is unsure of the specific timeline, “The chairwoman is saying that we actually may try and mark something up at the committee level before Easter,” he explained. “The question is, can we get floor time for it between now and the end of the fiscal year,” when the current Farm Bill expires?

“Agriculture has really been one of the few shining stars in our economy,” Thune emphasized. “We need to make sure we create agricultural policy that not only provides an adequate safety net, but also keeps agricultural production sustainable and not damaging to the environment. But we are going to have to do it in a way that doesn’t cost as much as it has in the past. This is a very different fiscal climate.”

Asked if there was any type of a compromise reached on a new commodity title, Thune said:

“We all agree that crop insurance is going to be the cornerstone. The question then is, ‘what do we fill the gaps with? What kind of program should provide the safety net?’” Direct payments are unlikely to be continued, he added.

Last year, Thune introduced a bill that would eliminate direct payments, the Average Crop Revenue Election Program (ACRE) and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program (SURE), and replace these programs with the Aggregate Risk and Revenue Management (AARM) program. It’s designed to provide assistance in years when crop insurance indemnities need to be supplemented and would save taxpayers $20 billion over 10 years when compared to the current Farm Bill.

Elements of the AARM proposal were incorporated, “at least in some fashion” in the package sent to the Super committee in November, Thune said,  and he hopes that his plan will continue to be a key part of whatever is eventually written in the commodity title.

“The Southern states have a different idea about how to do this so we need to find that sweet spot and strike the balance that allows us to not only get enough votes to pass a bill out of the committee, but on the floor.”

Thune predicts that some type of new revenue program will be a part of the commodity title, but he’s not exactly sure how it will be structured.

“It will have to be done in a way that saves money compared to previous bills because our baseline will be a lot narrower.”  



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