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Officials: No farm bill until January

The U.S. House broke for Christmas this week, a new five-year farm bill still in the hopper despite a year and more of wrangling over it.

But lawmakers from North Dakota and Minnesota said a final agreement is near.

“I’ve been pushing hard to get people to agree so we could get a floor vote in December,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who is on the conference committee trying to hammer together a bill from House and Senate versions. “I think we have enough agreement now that it will get to the floor in January and I believe we can get it passed.”

Although there are some concerns that the five-year bill expiring Dec. 31 could result in spikes in milk prices, Hoeven said he opposed some House moves to quickly pass a one-month extension of the current farm bill.

“I hope to keep pressure on to get a new five-year farm bill,” he said, and the one-month extension might push concerns to a back burner.

The five-year farm bill passed in 2008 expired in September 2012 but was extended for 12 months.

Without a farm bill in place since Sept. 30, farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union, have called for Congress to get a new five-year farm bill passed so farmers and others in agriculture will be better able to make business plans.

The House and the Senate have drafted different versions of a new $500 billion farm bill, but fighting over the food stamp program, as well as other spending provisions, has kept agreement at bay.

Farm bill supporters point out that only about 25 percent of the “farm bill” has to do with supports and subsidies for farmers; most of it goes to nutrition programs at home and abroad.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., serves with Hoeven on the conference committee. He told reporters this week in Fargo he’s concerned about a group of conservative Republicans who not only oppose the food stamp program but key elements of farm commodity subsidies.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., is with Hoeven on the ag committee and, like him, she opposes a one-month extension of the current farm bill.

“We are so close to a deal on the farm bill — the closest we have been in the past three years,” she said in a news release Friday. “And I know both Republicans and Democrats want to reach a compromise bill. We need to keep the pressure on, and passing a one month extension of the Farm Bill isn’t necessary and doesn’t help keep the momentum going.

“The U.S. Agriculture Secretary has said that dairy prices won’t spike as long as Congress passes a Farm Bill in early January. And the chairs of both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees have said a final Farm Bill should be ready at the beginning of the new year.”

Not having a farm bill is already affecting ranchers in western areas of North Dakota and South Dakota who lost, in many cases, dozens or hundreds of cattle and sheep to storms. Without emergency farm bill provisions, they have not been indemnified.

Hoeven said a new farm bill “will include a livestock indemnity program and that will be retroactive and will apply to ranchers in North Dakota and South Dakota.”