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ND Farmers Union president hopes Congress will soon pass a new farm bill

The President of the North Dakota Farmers Union says he’s hoping Congress will agree on a new farm bill yet this year.

Mark Watne said the debate over the debt ceiling temporarily derailed discussions on major spending issues, including a farm bill.

"So now, here we are — we're trying to get input and trying to get the farm bill to move, knowing that the current bill will actually expire next year," Watne said in an interview. "We certainly don't want to do an extension."

Watne said an extension would just cause a lot of uncertainty among farmers.

"I don't know if we ever get the truly good dialogue on what's working, what's not working, what can we enhance and make it function better for taxpayers, consumers and farmers," Watne said.

Watne also said agriculture itself is a "miniscule" part of the bill, because it contains the food stamp program, or SNAP.

"It's amazing we still call it a farm bill," Watne said.

Watne said one of the priorities his organization has for a farm bill is strengthening the “safety net” for farmers.

"First of all, the support levels are way too low," Watne said. "They don't function properly when we have a disaster and a price collapse."

Watne said it's to the point that farmers have to seek "ad hoc" disaster declarations.

"A farm program should never be designed so that you have to come back in for enhanced money," Watne said. "It should be designed to function when it's needed."

Watne also said the conservation totle will be a hot topic during farm bill discussions. He said the Farmers Union wants a good environment, and is concerned about climate change. But Watne said if agriculture is going to be part of a solution, it needs to be an “opt-in” and reward program.

"You should make a program where farmers who are willing to make the effort in storing carbon or reduces pollutants, that there's a compensation method," Watne said. "It's a 'carrot rather than a stick' method."

The National Farmers Union will hold a “fly-in” to Washington DC, to lobby for the farm bill in September.