WASHINGTON — A shift in leadership within the Senate Agriculture Committee could benefit Arkansas rice growers when lawmakers get down to crafting farm policy this year, according to Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
Boozman, who spoke Tuesday to members of the USA Rice Federation, said he expects the committee will report out a five-year farm bill that provides an adequate financial safety net to all farmers.
The Senate last year approved a $969 billion farm bill over the objections of Southern rice and peanut growers who believed the bill favored farmers in the Midwest. The House Agriculture Committee drafted a bill more favorable to Southern farmers but the House did not consider it, leaving the issue unresolved.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., remains chairman of the committee but Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., has replaced Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., as the top Republican. Boozman will remain on the committee.
"I think with Sen. Cochran’s leadership we will have a much more balanced bill coming out of the Senate," Boozman said.
Cochran is more familiar – and sympathetic – to Southern farmers, who are more interested in price supports than disaster assistance, Boozman said.
"Southern agriculture irrigates a lot so they don’t worry so much about drought as they do about the input cost," he said.
Cochran was one of 35 senators who voted against the Senate farm bill when it was approved last June. Boozman and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., also voted against it.
Cochran, in a statement, said he plans to help "quickly advance" a new farm bill.
The 2008 farm law expired in September but was extended by Congress as part of an end-of-year deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.