Thursday, August 02, 2007

Harkin Takes the Reins as Farm Bill Focus Shifts to Senate

Though the U.S. Senate's agriculture committee won't take up the 2007 Farm Bill until September, committee Chairman Tom Harkin has been quite vocal that the Senate's version will be different from the bill passed last Friday by the House of Representatives.

The Iowa Democrat, who also chaired the Senate ag committee in 2002 when the existing farm legislation was forged, may unveil some parts of his proposed bill as early as next week, reports Peter Shinn in an article on Brownfield Network. Harkin has said he wants lower limits on farm program payments than allowed in the House bill.

The House passed restrictions of payments only to individuals making less than $1 million annually in adjusted gross income. "I don't know where we're going to come in on that," Harkin told Shinn. "But it's going to be tougher than the House."

A new "competition title" in the farm bill also will be an item to watch. The Senate bill is expected to include a new provision to enhance competition in livestock markets to improve livestock producers' ability to receive fair prices for their animals. Rep. Leonard Boswell, an Iowa Democrat who served as chairman of the House subcommittee on livestock, dairy and poultry, had submitted a competition provision in the House bill, but it was removed before the bill went to the floor.

National Farmers Union President Tom Buis said in a press release this week that he hopes to see these needed competition reforms, such as a ban on meat-packer ownership of livestock, included in the Senate bill. Buis also is hopeful that resources will be found for a permanent disaster program when the Senate Agriculture Committee takes up the farm bill in September.

On the other side of the ideological spectrum, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation is watching the bill closely.

Iowa Independent visited on Wednesday with Mark Salvador, national policy adviser for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, who said that members are pleased with the House bill. "While Farm Bureau members certainly do support strong conservation programs, a strong energy title in the farm bill, and rural development initiatives, we have asked Congress to be diligent in considering the needs of rural America as a whole, and not focus too heavily on any one particular field that ultimately may result in a bill to the detriment of the whole agricultural community," said Salvador.

He expects the Senate bill to shift to more of an emphasis on conservation programs. "We expect Sen. Harkin's bill to include a new comprehensive stewardship incentive program, which is, as I understand it, a melding of the current Conservation Security Program and the current Environmental Quality Incentives Program," he said. "I expect Sen. Harkin's bill will put pretty heavy emphasis on the conservation title and stewardship practices, maybe more so than the House bill did."

He also expects the Senates' version to include a competition title like the one Boswell introduced in the House, which will have Farm Bureau's support in the Senate.

Another item to watch closely in the Senate debate is mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for food products. Enacting the COOL program has been one of the main efforts of the National Farmers Union. The House bill included a provision to enact mandatory COOL by September 2008 for all meats, fruits and vegetables sold in retail markets in the United States. COOL has had many opponents, but all signs are pointing to the provision passing through the Senate and being enacted on schedule.

The ag legislation is not likely to make it to the Senate floor before mid-September, which may be a difficult time to work on the legislation because that is when a major report on the war in Iraq is due to be discussed in Congress.

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