On Feb. 1, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) announced her committee will hold four hearings in February and March on farm bill issues. 

A hearing set for Feb. 15 will cover energy issues; a hearing set for Feb. 29 will cover conservation issues; a hearing set for March 14 will cover nutrition issues; and a hearing set for March 21 will tackle what is expected to be the biggest road block to quick completion of the bill, risk management and commodity title policies. 

The committee announcement said witness lists and times will be released at a later date.

It is widely expected the Senate committee will complete its work on a new farm bill first, perhaps before the work of the House Agriculture Committee officially begins.

Farm bill watchers got another piece of interesting data this week from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which provides the official estimates, or scores, of costs associated with proposed government programs. 

In its Budget and Economic Outlook, released Jan. 31, CBO said mandatory spending for agricultural support is expected to rise very slightly and remain stable over the next 10 years, accounting for $15 billion in 2011 and a projected average of $16 billion per year between 2012 and 2022.

In 2013, CBO suggested mandatory agriculture spending will fall to about $13 billion. 

By contrast, mandatory spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, came to about $77 billion per year in 2011, and is projected to remain in that range through 2022.

CBO’s projections of farm policy spending will be essential components of finalizing a farm bill in 2012, as overall program spending is expected to decline, putting pressure on policy makers to design a better safety net with ever-fewer dollars. 

The Obama Administration is scheduled to release its budget proposal in mid-February, which will begin official budget discussions for the coming fiscal year. 

More on the planned Senate Agriculture hearings is at http://ag.senate.gov.

The full commodity group joint statement is available at http://www.wheatworld.org/news-events/2012/02/commodity-group-release-statement-following-joint-meeting/