It appears the next farm bill will be led by decisions made in the U.S. Senate. Senator Mike Johanns, R-Neb., who is a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, points out that is very unusual. Typically the House writes the farm bill and the Senate may do some fine-tuning. Work is already progressing in the Senate as the Senate Agriculture Committee begins a series of farm bill hearings next Wednesday, Feb. 15.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., recently announced the schedule of Senate farm bill hearings. Wednesday's will focus on energy and economic growth in rural America. Two weeks later on Wednesday, Feb. 28, conservation will be examined. Healthy food initiatives as well as local production and nutrition will be the focus of the hearing on Wednesday, Mar. 14. The series of hearings will wrap up on, Wednesday, Mar. 21 as the panel looks at risk management and commodities as they relate to the 2012 Farm Bill.
Witnesses, times and other specific hearing details have yet to be announced. Senate Agriculture Committee hearings are available for viewing on the Committee website at ag.senate.gov.
According to Johanns, he has a sense that they could get a majority to pass a bill out of committee, maybe even much stronger than a majority.
This session of the House features a lot of new members, and Johanns says creating a farm bill is kind of a unique process that will present a special set of challenges for the new members.
Right now, 83% of the farm bill is focused on food stamps, the SNAP program, free and reduced lunch at schools, and the WIC program. The remaining 17% of the bill affects agriculture. As Senator Johanns puts it, the farm programs are really a footnote anymore, and on two out of three of the programs, you're not paying anything because farm prices have been good.