High profile leaders continue call for farm bill

Sec. Vilsack and Speaker Boehner both make strong statements calling for final farm bill negotiations to get wrapped up.

Although the four agriculture committee principals missed their self-imposed Thanksgiving deadline, the pressure remains for the chambers to agree upon a comprehensive farm bill.

During a conference call Tuesday, when asked whether it was time for the House and Senate leadership to sit down with President Obama, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack responded the principals are engaging and working towards the end goal.

However, he warned negotiations shouldn't make "perfect the enemy of good." Within the discussion of food stamps and subsidies, much of the "good" the farm bill could be providing the country is being lost in the conversation he said of the positive improvements made within the reform of the bill and money for trade, research and rural America as a whole.  

At a press conference earlier Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) reiterated the House’s good-faith efforts to finish important work on behalf of the American people, and called on Senate Democrats “to get serious” and do their part to support that effort. 

“I want the farm bill conference to be completed. Chairman [Frank] Lucas has made a number of good-faith efforts, we can’t get Senate Democrats to the point of saying ‘yes,’" he said.  

Boehner said the same problem faces budget discussions. "It is time for the other chamber to get serious about getting this work finished," Boehner said.

One of the hiccups in the commodity title is how to determine acres under the target price program, something of great importance to southern producers. When asked whether historic base acres versus planted acres should be the basis, Vilsack recognized that it is important to not set the U.S. up for additional retaliation.

In order to avoid retaliation and not create more trade problems, he said it's important to find a compromise that respects the differences of all commodities. He said it needs to be balanced, but also with awareness that the U.S. is engaged in global economic activity.

"I'm confident they can find a sweet spot," he said of the leaders hashing out the differences on the commodity title.

A common talking point from Vilsack has been the need to fix the U.S. cotton program which was found to be trade distorting by the World Trade Organization. The last farm bill set up a payment of $147 million annually, or $12.25 million monthly, to go towards a special organization devoted to bolstering Brazilian cotton production. Those payments ended in August without the budgetary authority for them to continue.

Reports indicate a special inter-ministerial group in Brazil was expected to meet Nov. 27 to consider options concerning the value, method and timing of potential trade sanctions.

As the calendar year draws to a close, many are concerned about the reinstitution of 1949 ag law if the farm bill expires. Vilsack confirmed his staff is indeed working on that scenario, but did not provide details as into how long the impact would take to be felt if an extension doesn't come before Dec. 31.

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