Farmers and ranchers could see a vote on a compromise federal farm bill as early as next week, according to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
Hoeven, a member of the House and Senate conference committee on the bill, said there are some issues that haven't been resolved, but he is hoping for agreement by the end of this week. If there isn't agreement, he said, there likely will be a move Monday to force a vote in committee with the aim of getting the majority needed to take the bill to the full House and Senate as is.
"The bill, I think, is a good one," Hoeven said in Minot Wednesday. "It's good for North Dakota, and it gives our farmers good options.
"Our farmers really wanted to focus on crop insurance," he added. "In terms of the crop insurance, it was a number one priority. I think it will be a strong program."
One element that he supported but likely will not get is decoupling, or separating, conservation compliance and crop insurance, he said. However, there are no retroactive provisions that could negatively affect farmers, and there will be an allowance in the mitigation program so people can swap out acreage to meet conservation requirements.
One area still holding up an agreement is the dairy program. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Congressman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the House Agriculture Committee ranking member, have disagreed over supply management language that Peterson favors to benefit smaller dairy producers. But Hoeven said there is compromise language in the works.
Also, the definition of "actively engaged in farming" is under negotiation. Proposed language related to the definition that restricts or reduces payments to some farmers creates problems for Southern producers, so a compromise is needed on that issue as well as on country-of-origin labeling, Hoeven said.
For a congressional decision to come next week, the vote would need to occur by Thursday morning because the House will be out of session for a conference after that time, Hoeven said.
The existing farm bill expired at the end of 2013. Hoeven said he and other senators have refused to agree to an extension, preferring to keep the pressure on for a new bill.
"If we can't get a compromise that can pass both the House and Senate floors, then we are going to be stuck with a one-year extension again, and that's what we don't want, because we need to get a long-term, five-year bill for farmers and ranchers," he said. "For farmers to go forward, to plan, they need a long-term bill."
He added that ranchers in southwestern North Dakota, whose livestock were hit hard with an early winter storm, have assistance in the new bill that wouldn't be available if the existing bill is extended.