The House and Senate Agriculture committees both passed farm bills this week, the Senate on Tuesday and the House late Wednesday night.
Leaders in the House and Senate are trying to send a five-year farm bill to President Barack Obama before Sept. 30, when the current extension of the 2008 farm bill expires.
In a phone interview with the Creston News Advertiser Thursday, Sen. Chuck Grassley said he expects a farm bill to pass this year.
Grassley said the most significant change would be the elimination of $4.9 billion in direct payments to farmers, which are made regardless of market prices.
The money saved would instead be directed into other programs, such as crop insurance and new subsidies for peanut, cotton and rice farmers.
The Senate version of the bill also consolidates conservation programs and cuts $4 billion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, which was projected to cost more than $700 billion over the next 10 years.
The bill will be presented to the Senate next week and Grassley said it will “probably be done within two weeks of session.”
“I don’t know when the House will take it up,” said Grassley. “But I think we are getting started early enough to avoid an election year debacle like last year and it will move ahead.”
Grassley said he does have some concerns with the proposed Senate BIll.
“There is one thing about the Senate bill I think is moving in the wrong direction,” said Grassley. “I think that’s the establishment of target prices of peanuts and rice. Beyond that, I think doing away with direct payments, maintaining a pretty strong crop insurance program and cutting $23 billion dollars from the appropriations from the agriculture committee, I think makes a pretty good bill.”
Grassley said he currently supports the bill, but could vote against it, because target prices on crops take the industry back to the “prefreedom to farm years.”
“Prior to 1996, most of the farm programs were written in a way that the farmers planted crops of how you could get the most money out of the farm program as opposed to what the market paid,” said Grassley. “What gets started with peanuts and rice, could eventually get carried over into other crops.”
Grassley said he doesn’t want farmers making decisions based on the farm programs.
“We want planting decisions to be made on the needs of the people in the market place,” said Grassley.
The farm bill that came out of the Senate Agriculture Committee will maintain the crop insurance program.
“That is what the farmers have asked us to do,” said Grassley.
Grassley believes there will be some changes in conservation programs, but not as significant as doing away with direct payments.
“It’s pretty much the same as the one we passed last year,” he said.