The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee held the first farm bill hearing of the year this week, focusing on energy and rural development issues.
The hearing included testimony from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as well as rural development leaders and small business people. Much of the hearing focused on how to ensure rural development spending helps to create jobs and develop the growing renewable fuels and biobased products industries.
Though the hearing did not explicitly cover farm safety net priorities or proposals, Vilsack answered a number of questions related to them from Senators, asserting the importance of a domestically-produced food supply and engaging in an exchange over the viability of the SURE disaster program.
In her opening statement, Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) referenced a call earlier in the week from more than 80 agriculture groups, asking Congress to complete the reauthorization this year.
The groups, in a letter sent Monday to leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, urged them to reject suggestions of a farm bill extension and “aggressively act” to complete a new bill this year.
“The 2012 farm bill is among the most important pieces of legislation the U.S. Congress will consider this year,” they wrote.
“A temporary extension of current policy creates tremendous uncertainty while serving to further none of these needs. We, therefore, stand ready to help you in an effort to pass a full, comprehensive reauthorization of the farm bill this year, without needless delay or disruption.”
The letter, to which NAWG was a signatory, largely echoed a recent commodity group statement that followed joint farm bill meetings earlier this month.
In that statement, 13 groups representing producers of Title I crops said the meetings “confirmed…our common belief that Congress should pass and the President should sign a strong new farm bill into law this year. The law expires at the end of this year and producers – like all job creators – need certainty from Washington.”
The Senate’s hearing this week was the first of four planned in a series to examine farm bill-related programs. A hearing on conservation programs is scheduled for Feb. 28; a hearing on nutrition issues is scheduled for March 14; and a hearing on Title I, or farm safety net, programs is scheduled for March 21.
Stabenow and Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) have expressed interest in moving a bill through their Committee by spring, with Memorial Day as an informal target.
The full letter sent this week from ag groups is at http://www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/farmbill-coalition-call-bill-this-year-20120213.pdf.
The commodity groups’ statement is at http://www.wheatworld.org/news-events/2012/02/commodity-group-release-statement-following-joint-meeting/.
A web archive of the Senate Agriculture hearing is at http://www.ag.senate.gov/hearings/energy-and-economic-growth-for-rural-america.