Yes, Virginia, there will be a Farm Bill.
And it will be a 5-year bill that provides a strong crop insurance safety net and it will pass this session of Congress.
That's the consensus put forth by top Agriculture Committee representatives from both the House and Senate in meetings with North American Agricultural Journalists in Washington, D.C., last week.
Rep. Michael Conaway of Texas stood in for Chairman Frank Lucas who was tied up in meetings.
Conaway said he is sure there will be a 5-year bill and it will pass before Sept. 30 when the extension of the last bill expires.
"I think we will see a safety net that relies heavily on crop insurance," he said. "What we want is credit for the big cuts to crop insurance that have already been made."
Conaway said one of his "best legislative days" in Congress was the passage of the Farm Bill out of committee last year.
"It proved to me that if you stay at the table long enough you can get the job done," he said. "I can't say enough about the work of Congressman Lucas in getting that done."
House ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota told NAAJ members that there is more will to bring a bill to the House floor this year than there was in 2012, when the best that Congress could wrangle was a one-year extension of the 2006 bill.
Peterson said the common idea that it was disagreement over the nutrition title, which controls money for food stamps and school lunches, that held up the bill is false.
In reality, he said, there was a great deal of support for putting off the bill in belief that the 2012 elections would produce a Republican-controlled Senate and a Romney presidency that would be conducive to a broad rewrite of the bill.
"Well, that didn't work out too well," Peterson said. "Now, there's more pressure to actually get a bill through the House."
Peterson said Dairy Security Act portion of the bill will draw debate, but he laid out a grim scenario.
"If we don't have dairy support and we get another milk price collapse like we saw in 2009, then we will lose 25% of the dairy farmers in the U.S. and California will be particularly hard hit," he said.
Peterson said in reality most of his constituents are happy with the current Farm Bill and there isn't a lot of pressure to change most provisions in it.
He said his greatest desire is just to have the leadership in both houses come up with a number that they want for Farm Bill savings.
"I've told the Speaker to get together with Harry Reid and give us a number and we will do it," he said. "We can get it done."
Peterson said he considers categorical eligibility for the SNAP program to be something that "ought to go away" because it allows states to qualify people who do not meet federal guidelines to qualify for the federal program.
"States that qualify people for other programs at 200% or 185% of federal poverty level get those people automatically qualified for food stamps," he said. "And the federal government pays the bill. That's just bad policy. And worse yet, the people who qualify at those levels get hardly any money – at 200% of poverty level, you qualify but get $10 a month. That's not worth the administrative cost. And nobody is going to miss $10 a month if it goes away."
At the same time, he said, those $10 and $15 monthly payments add up to $35 billion in the total federal budget.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan told NAAJ members that the events of 2012 – when both the Senate and House agriculture committees passed a Farm Bill and the full Senate voted on and passed a bill but it was never brought to the floor of the House was an unprecedented event.
"Agriculture, rural America and American consumers can't afford to have this happen again," she said.
Stabenow said she welcomes recent Farm Bill proposals by the American Farm Bureau and the Soybean Growers Association and she would love to see a Senate Farm Bill markup in April or May.
She said she supports a robust crop insurance program and the addition of more specialty crops under the insurance umbrella.
"To me, it just seems reasonable to give the growers of these crops access to same risk management tools that other growers have had all along," she said.