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Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., plans to use his reigns as the upcoming new House Agriculture Committee Chairman to make changes in the current farm bill. In a recent press conference he explained that although he doesn't know what baseline budget allocations will be, he suspects it will be less in the commodity title. He does plan to push for permanent disaster aid and additional conservation funding, including increasing Conservation Reserve Program acres to identify if there is an ideal cellulose feedstock.
Peterson said the first big hurdle for the committee is to achieve the budget levels needed to fund the 2007 Farm Bill. He's hoping to have baseline budget allocations in March, so the committee can begin to write programs that fit within the budget parameters. Peterson said he's already had conversations with budget leaders in the House and Senate.
Peterson explains that a lot of people are looking at the current commodity title. Wheat guys want to raise the target prices and loan rate, he says. Soybean producers are pushing to raise target prices as well. And the National Corn Growers Association is looking at an entirely different approach to commodity spending. "Until we figure out what we're going to do, we don't know how much money we're going to need," Peterson says.
Last week the American Farm Bureau Federation sent a letter to President Bush stating funding for the upcoming farm bill should be at the same level as authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill, with an inflation adjustment.
AFBF President Bob Stallman said AFBF is concerned that if Congress is limited to the current Congressional Budget Office baseline for agriculture when extending the current farm bill or writing a new one, adequate funding will not be provided for the commodity title. The current CBO baseline for 2008-2013, released in March, projects spending at $488 billion, up from $465 billion Congress committed to funding for the 2002 bill.
However, CBO's projected division of funds shifts substantially from that approved for the 2002 bill. Nutrition funding is expected to grow 15% and conservation funding will rise 35%. Outlays for the commodity title, which includes farm program payments, are slated to decrease by 42%.
A new CBO baseline to be released in March 2007 is expected to reduce the commodity baseline, to $57 billion over six years - barely more than half of the $99 billion Congress was willing to spend on commodity programs during the past six years, AFBF says.
Peterson assures he's confident Congress is going to get the budget that is needed to do the programs he wants. The
He also supports increasing CRP acres by 5-6 million acres and paying farmers to plant biomass crops for potential use in cellulose ethanol plants.
Peterson said he is trying to move expeditiously, in hopes of finishing up the bill in the House and Senate at least before the August recess. This will give staffs on both sides time to reconcile the two bills with a vote after Labor Day. In this timeline, President Bush would receive the bill before it expires on Sept. 30.
The incoming chairman also said he's considering having subcommittees draft the bill in open session and allowing amendments to be made in public. This was once the custom in the 80s before Republicans took control of the chamber.
Peterson's pledge to have the bill ready for final drafting during the August recess mirrors comments made last week by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who said the Senate's bill will also be on a fast track.