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More than 40 agriculture and agribusiness leaders gathered Wednesday with North Dakota’s congressional delegation in Bismarck to discuss progress on a new farm bill.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., outlined a farm bill proposal he has worked with Republican Sen. John Hoeven and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to craft. Conrad said he hopes the Revenue Loss Assistance and Crop Insurance Act of 2012 will get a strong bipartisan vote from the Senate Agriculture Committee later this month and will go to the full Senate.

The bill includes $23 billion in spending reductions and protects the federal crop insurance program from cuts. It would create a new Revenue Loss Assistance Program, which combines revenue loss protection and disaster aid programs into a new program intended to be simpler, save money and provide protection for revenue loss of between 12 percent and 25 percent.

Conrad said the plan is fair, protects popular farm bill programs and benefits producers in North Dakota and elsewhere.

“We’re trying to do this in a way that is transparent, that is clear and is defensible,” Conrad said.

The threshold for the new Revenue Loss Assistance Program would be a 12 percent loss in revenue, Conrad said. It would provide a coverage range of between 75 percent and 88 percent for producers and the payment rate would be 65 percent, with a 45 percent rate for land that farmers are unable to plant.

“I think it has a great chance to be the heart of the farm bill,” Hoeven said. “We’re gonna need a big bipartisan vote out of the ag committee to get this on the Senate floor.”

Conrad said he believes the legislation proposed by himself and Hoeven is far better than if they were to try to craft a bill based on cuts proposed by the House-passed budget resolution. The resolution calls for $180 billion in cuts, which Conrad said makes crafting an effective farm bill virtually impossible.

“The balance of this $180 billion is talking about nutritional programs,” said Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D.

According to the fiscal 2013 Senate Agriculture Committee baseline budget, approximately 82 percent of farm bill spending comes from nutritional programs.

“To be perfectly clear, I support the Senate bill,” Berg said.

Berg said it’s difficult to explain the importance of the farm bill to colleagues who aren’t in districts heavily dependent on agriculture — or approximately 90 percent of the House districts.

Representatives of urban districts don’t realize that a large percentage of the bill is related to nutritional programs such as the one formerly known as food stamps, which is of help to their constituents, Berg said.

Rick Clayburgh, president of the North Dakota Bankers Association, asked Conrad what he thought of recent comments by the House Agriculture Committee chairman about passing a one-year extension rather than pass a new farm bill.

“Kicking this can down the road would be a huge mistake,” Conrad said. “I think it would be a profound mistake if we have a one-year extension.”

“The proposal we have put before our colleagues ... can withstand scrutiny,” he said.

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Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at