Sen. Conrad offers compromise to end farm bill subsidy fight

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) on Thursday filed a compromise farm bill amendment aimed at getting southern farm state senators to back the bill. 

The amendment would continue the counter-cyclical target price subsidy that the underlying bill eliminates. That program pays farmers if a commodity market price falls below an amount specified in the law.

ADVERTISEMENT
The 2012 farm bill, authored by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), replaces that and direct farm payments with an expanded crop insurance program to cover shallow losses, known as Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC).

Rice and peanut growers say that program does not work for them. Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have opposed the bill at least in part because of opposition from souther farmers.

The Conrad amendment, which he has been working on with Chambliss, would raise target prices on all commodities by 5 to 7 percent. 

For rice, this means a price floor of $11 per hundredweight. For peanuts, it would mean a $25.25 per hundredweight price.

ADVERTISEMENT
Chambliss had been seeking a $13.98 per hundredweight price for rice and $26.70 for peanuts.

“This is still a work in progress as we seek a responsible bipartisan, multi-regional approach to providing an adequate safety net for farmers, and the fact that the senators from the upper plains are involved is a clear indication that other regions aren’t enamored with ARC,” Chambliss said through his spokeswoman.

Peanut lobbyist Bob Redding also called the Conrad amendment a "starting point."

Conrad intends to make the amendment deficit neutral but it has not yet been scored. Currently the bill pays for the target price support by eliminating crop insurance for peanuts and scaling back crop insurance for other crops.

Conrad's office said the Stabenow peanut insurance program is redundant since the Department of Agriculture is working on one anyway.

The farm bill is bogged down in a dispute over how many of the more than 250 amendments that have been filed to the bill could still fail on the floor. Progress in getting the entire Agriculture Committee behind the bill could smooth the negotiations over non-germane amendments.

The House could begin marking up a farm bill this month if the Senate acts and gives the process momentum. If the Senate fails to pass a bill, the House could be hard-pressed to move a bill before the current farm bill expires on Oct. 1 and farm subsidies revert to 1940s levels.