As lawmakers on both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees look for budgetary and policy answers in preparation for the possibility of writing a new farm bill this year there are many unanswered questions. House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., says his first concern is how much money will be available.
"Is it a going to be a $23 billion reduction that Senator Stabenow and I agreed to, or the $32 or $33 billion number that the President talked about in his budget proposal, and what will Mr. Ryan of the House Budget Committee throw at us? He had a $40 billion number last time," Lucas said. "I need a number, I need to know what is available to me, I need leadership to commit to floor time and I think we on the Ag Committee, we'll try and make something happen."
This year the committees more than likely will at least start farm bill negotiations with the proposal they put together for last fall's failed super committee on budget-reduction. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson says the Stabenow-Lucas collaboration was admirable.
"You pretty much have to admit that the two of them at least got together and agreed on something, none of the other committees did that," Johnson said. "I think the farm bill that emerges is going to bear some similarity to that. I'd be surprised if there aren't changes, but I don't know that we'll know what all the changes are because we still haven't seen the language."
Congressman Lucas says ultimately that if you go away from the old direct payment program and go to crop insurance the question then becomes how much crop insurance do you have?
"Do you protect against disasters or do you go so far as to address swings in price," Lucas said. "And how much money do you have to write those policies with that concept, that's the real question."
Lucas says there are groups, especially in the Midwest, who want a big focus on revenue protection from swings in price. For those who live in parts of the country where weather is a big factor though, Lucas says the focus is on protection in that realm first.