Stabenow: Southern Rice Growers Don't Like Change, But Change Is Coming

May 9, 2012 03:36 AM

Congressional Quarterly's (CQ's) Ellyn Ferguson got a quick interview with Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) about the problems that rice and peanut growers have with the farm bill her Ag panel cleared. That measure would eliminate direct payments and create an Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program to compensate farmers for a portion of their revenue losses not covered by crop insurance - and perhaps some acres that do.

While California rice growers support the bill, Stabenow told CQ her panel "spent hours and hours and hours and hours" talking about the bill without yielding a result that would satisfy the Southerners.

"We actually did have provisions in the bill for peanuts and rice. At this point, I would say we welcome their ideas. We put into the bill things that we felt would be helpful and that we could get support for and at this point the ball is in their court to help us with some ideas that can get the bipartisan support that we need."

Told that rice growers do not want to lose their direct payments, Stabenow said, according to CQ: "I know. That's why we couldn't get anywhere. I need something other than that. Direct payments are going to be gone. What I need are ideas on how we can support them in the new time, in the new system. As long as that is their position, I don't know what to do. We put in crop insurance, in ARC we had a reference price."

Told that southern rice growers do not like the farm bill development to date, Stabenow said, "They don't like the change, but the change is coming."

As previously reported, the coming House farm bill will likely include a farmer option much to the liking of southern rice growers and perhaps other farmers. The option will be a choice between ARC and higher target prices.

Stabenow said. "No one is hostile" to the Southern growers. "We just have to have them working in a risk-based system." She concluded that she feels Southern rice growers "need transition support, but they will have to transition to the new system."

Perspective: What Stabenow did not say is that there was a lot of pressure inside the top levels of the Ag panel for a revenue assurance program geared to soybean, corn and late in the process, northern-tier states. The farm-state senators and lobby groups for those sectors were just more effective, in part because the rice industry was split on policy moves - especially between California and southern-state growers.

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