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Hoeven: Farm bill may not come until 2014

HETTINGER — Predicting that a farm bill may not become reality until next year, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., addressed members of the state’s farming and ranching community here Friday morning.

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“What I’m pushing for is to get it out onto the floor for a vote in the next couple of weeks,” Hoeven said following an hour-long forum with about two dozen visitors at the North Dakota State University Research Extension Center. “I’m hopeful that we can at least get it passed on the Senate floor. That would really set us up to get it done no later than the first part of January.”

A member of the U.S. House and Senate farm bill conference committee, Hoeven and others are in the midst of negotiating the framework for a comprehensive piece of legislation that can garner support in both the House and Senate, which each passed versions of a farm bill earlier this year.

If a farm bill isn’t passed soon, a short-term fix agreement could be reached. But such a move could backfire on politicians following the unpopular government shutdown after Washington failed to come together on a federal budget agreement. Hoeven said that a recent comment by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, about a possible farm bill extension worries him.

“This is our window to do it,” Hoeven said. “I’m pushing as hard as I can. I really think we’ve covered the commodity title portion of the (farm bill) so the biggest holdup would be with food stamps. I’m telling everyone to quit negotiating and start agreeing and just do it. The bottom line is we have to get this done.”

A number of area ranchers on Friday recanted horror stories from the October Atlas blizzard that left thousands of head of cattle in North Dakota and South Dakota dead.

Hoeven told his audience Friday that he’s working to keep the House version of the Livestock Indemnity Program — which pays ranchers the same 75 percent of their losses as the 2008 farm bill — in the final bill.

“It’s very, very important that we have the Livestock Indemnity Program in the bill,” Hoeven. “I’ve worked hard on that and I believe we’ll have it. I’m also trying to make sure that we include the sick animals that die when they get stressed out. I think we will have the 75 percent cost share and that will be retroactive so it will help some of these producers that got hit hard.”

The first question Hoeven received Friday centered on a possible requirement in the farm bill that would tie a number of conservation compliance measures to the legislation.

On Dec. 3, an alliance of 12 North Dakota farm-related organizations sent a letter to the four lead House-Senate conference committee negotiators urging them to leave out any conservation compliance regulations from a crop insurance plan, rules that haven’t been in place since the 1996 version of the farm bill.

North Dakota Rep. Keith Kempenich, a Republican who also ranches near Bowman, said any compliance measures would be “unnecessary government intrusion,” but said farmers and ranchers might have to bite the bullet.

“We don’t want anything like that. But if we have to have it, we want to see measures that are workable,” Kempenich said. “We don’t need the heavy hand of government coming down on us. We seem to be getting close on a farm bill, which is a good thing, but these are real life issues.”

Hoeven said it would be “difficult” to get a farm bill through without the conservation compliance measures.

“Most of the national farm groups came out and said it was OK to tie conservation compliance into the farm bill,” Hoeven said. “That really put us behind the eight ball. The North Dakota organizations have pushed back, but the national organizations didn’t. If they end up tying conservation compliance to crop insurance, what I’m trying to get is enough simplifications and some farmer-friendly provisions in place so that it would work.”

Hoeven has said any farm bill should include a “strong safety net” for producers, which would largely be in the form of enhanced crop insurance with the inclusion of the Supplemental Coverage Option, which allows producers to buy a supplemental policy beyond their individual farm-based insurance policy.

Hoeven also indicated that a finished farm bill needs to include support for agricultural research, such as the work done at research extension centers like the one in Hettinger. Hoeven said funding of the federal food stamp program is the biggest sticking point in negotiations.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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