WASHINGTON (DTN) -- House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, who has said he wants to finish the next farm in 2017, said Saturday that he now hopes to have the bill on the House floor in the last quarter of 2017 or the first quarter of 2018.
Conaway made the statement at the beginning of a House Agriculture Committee farm bill listening session on Saturday in Modesto, California.
Conaway, California Republican Reps. Jeff Denham, Doug LaMalfa, David Valadao, and Democratic Rep. Dwight Evans of Pennsylvania listened for three hours to statements from agriculture, nutrition and animal welfare advocates.
At the end of the session, Conaway noted that writing the farm bill would be challenging because "no one asked for less money."
He also said that the top 20% of earners in the country spend more on food than the bottom 20% make, and he said that when he writes the farm bill, he will keep that in mind.
Conaway also said that American consumers "get a deal" on food and that he would "deputize" all the attendees "to tell that story."
A series of urban and rural advocates, including a homeless man and a woman who had grown up on food stamps, said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) should be maintained at current levels.
Conaway thanked the speakers "for sharing personal stories on SNAP. That is very helpful."
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Several speakers also talked about the importance of the "Double Bucks" programs that allow SNAP beneficiaries to buy more fruits and vegetables at both farmers markets and grocery stores.
Lupe Lopez, the owners of six grocery stores in the San Francisco Bay area, said she sees "the struggles of people without money." They reach for pasta and hot dogs, which leads to obesity, she said. But through the "Double Bucks" program, they have been able to buy more California produce, which supports the SNAP program, especially the incentive programs.
"You gain a customer that is putting food on the table ... we gain not spending as much money on medical bills," Lopez said. "More produce grown in California is being bought. It is a win-win situation. Let's expand the program."
Several representatives of the Humane Society of the United States said the bill should address animal welfare issues. They praised Denham for his willingness to introduce bills on these issues.
Representatives of the poultry, pork and beef industries said it is vital to include a program to stop the spread of animal diseases but also to create a vaccine bank with enough vaccine to deal with outbreaks.
A representative of the United Fresh Produce Association also said that keeping invasive species out of the U.S. is a priority for fruit and vegetable growers.
Many speakers said that they need workers and that Congress should deal with the immigration issue.
Farm group leaders repeated many of the same statements that have been made at other sessions in favor of continuing the commodity, crop insurance and conservation programs. But a representative of the California rice industry said the reference price for California rice is not high enough.
A cotton industry representative said cotton needs to be put back in Title I of the farm bill.
Several speakers said the Margin Protection Program for dairy is not working and needs to be fixed.
Others said the foreign market development programs are important to maintaining exports, especially in light of President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. But a consultant from Atlanta noted that California wine exports have declined and said she believes that data can be used to spend foreign market development money more efficiently.
Several representatives of the almond industry noted that their product is California's biggest agricultural export, but added that the Environmental Quality Incentives Program is important in meeting California air quality standards, that the Market Access Program should be increased to deal with unfair foreign competition, and that more needs to be done to address bee colony collapse disorder.
Speakers for the organic industry also said their industry deserves more money because it has grown and it is vital to maintain the organic standards so that consumers continue to have confidence in organic food.
A representative of the aquaculture industry said it could expand, especially if growers had access to the Pacific Ocean.
A representative of the olive oil industry said that European Union subsidies create excess supply and that American growers face fraudulent imports. Olive growers utilize conservation, market access, specialty crop and crop insurance programs, the representative said.
Representatives of California state and polytechnic universities said the farm bill should provide funding for agriculture at non-land-grant colleges, particularly for Hispanic students.
At the end of the session, Conaway said he wanted to "take my member of Congress hat off," and repeated his frequent statements that the United States cannot govern itself it if not a moral country.
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