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Farmers, Ranchers Unsure Of House Farm Bill

Farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma and Arkansas said they support some parts of the farm bill that the U.S. House Agriculture Committee has passed, but all expressed a general uncertainty about the measure.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma and Arkansas said Thursday they support some parts of the farm bill that the U.S. House Agriculture Committee has passed, but all expressed a general uncertainty about the measure.

The committee sent the bill, which costs nearly $100 billion annually, to the full House on a 35-11 vote late Wednesday, three weeks after the Senate passed its version of the half-trillion-dollar legislation.

The current farm bill expires at the end of September.

"I think we're a long way from a finished product, but there were several things in the farm bill on the House side that we really like," said Scott Dewald, director of the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association.

Dewald pointed to language that instructs the agriculture secretary to develop a plan to bring "country of origin labeling" into compliance with a World Trade Organization ruling, which found the practice to be an unfair trade barrier following complaints by Canada and Mexico.

Jim Butler, a rice farmer in Harrisburg, Ark., said he has not yet read the bill, but hopes it is more beneficial for rice farmers than the Senate version, which would eliminate a price support program that pays farmers when prices fall below certain levels. The target price system is favored by rice and peanut farmers.

"I wasn't too enthused with the first one that came out (of the Senate)," Butler said. "We had no direct payment."

The House measure gives farmers a choice between the price support program and a taxpayer-paid revenue protection program included in the Senate bill that compensates farmers for modest revenue losses before subsidized crop insurance kicks in.

Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association director Tim Bartram praised the committee chairman, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., for a bill that Bartram said is much improved over the Senate plan, specifically for the price protection.

"It gives the farmer the opportunity, if we have extreme price declines, to hold on and go again," Bartram said.

Wheat farmer and Oklahoma Wheat Commission board member David Gammill of Chattanooga said he hadn't had "a chance to review it."

Lucas said in a statement that the so-called FARRM Act "is a balanced, reform-minded, fiscally responsible bill," and called for a House vote on the measure.

"The current farm bill expires on September 30 and there are only 13 legislative days before the August recess. Simply put, the House leadership needs to bring the farm bill to the floor for a vote," Lucas said.

Committee member Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., said the measure received bipartisan support.

"Now that the bill has been voted out of committee, I am hopeful the full House will soon be able to consider this legislation that saves taxpayers money and reduces the nation's deficit," Crawford said in a statement.

Eighty percent of the bill is devoted to food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The House legislation would save $3.5 billion a year from current spending levels, with $1.6 billion coming from tightening rules for food stamp beneficiaries. Savings in the Senate bill are $2.3 billion a year, of which $400 million comes from the food stamp program.

Arkansas Rice Federation Chairman Dow Brantley sent a letter to Lucas and ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., expressing the group's support of the House bill.

"We believe that a policy such as the one included in the House Agriculture Committee draft bill will provide flexibility and effective assistance when income and market conditions warrant," according to the letter.

The Agricultural Council of Arkansas said in a statement that its members are pleased the measure includes a safety net.

"Any significant changes to the safety-net programs included in the FARRM Act would not only put our support at risk, it could put the livelihood of Arkansas's agriculture industry and our rural communities at risk," it said.

Dewald said he is confident a bill will be in place by the Sept. 30 deadline.

"Historically, there's always been a resolution reached. There's all kinds of things Congress can do, and will do," Dewald said.