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Officials: Senate's farm bill promising; Belfield hosts one of six forums to discuss the legislation

BELFIELD -- The U.S. Senate's version of the 2012 farm bill looks promising to the North Dakota Farmers Union, the union's president, Woody Barth, told local farmers Tuesday at a public forum at the pavilion in Belfield.

"We're overall happy with the Senate's version of the farm bill, and we've been happy with how the process of drafting the farm bill has gone so far," said Barth, who farms east of Flasher. "The only thing it lacks is a strong mechanism if commodity prices drop."

About 20 area farmers turned out for the forum, which included input from panelists Scott Stofferahn, state director for U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Tom Nelson, state director for U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., and Tom Brusegaard, state director for U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

The two-hour discussion at the pavilion in Belfield was one of six forums held this week to discuss the farm bill, which the Congressional House Committee on Agriculture is meeting today to consider.

The farm bill, which Brusegaard estimated makes up about one-quarter of 1 percent of the federal budget, sets the agricultural and food policy for the U.S. and is reauthorized by Congress every five years.

The current farm bill will expire in September.

"The farm bill helps with risk management and has production losses provisions to help farmers stay afloat if there is a disaster," Barth said. "In turn, it helps to create a secure supply of food for people in North Dakota, the U.S. and around the world."

Stofferahn said he is optimistic that the final version of the farm bill will be satisfactory to farmers. But he does not think the bill will go to a vote on the House floor before the August recess.

"I'm optimistic that in the end the bill that we get will be one that we can live with, but we would like if Congress would act on it before the current law is up in September," Stofferahn said. "The sooner they pass the new bill the better off agriculture will be."

Bob Christman, senior policy and agriculture adviser for Berg and former extension agent for Stark and Billings counties, said winter wheat growers in particular would appreciate Congress passing the bill before August recess because they will be planting soon.