Federal lawmakers will push to end direct payments and slash program budgets in the 2012 farm bill, according to Al Juhnke, a staff member for Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

Juhnke met with area farmers at Winona City Hall on Thursday to talk about changes farmers can expect in the upcoming bill, and listen to comments and concerns.

The previous farm bill, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, is set to expire later this fall. Lawmakers attempted to craft a new bill last year, work that has carried into 2012.

The U.S. House of Representatives normally writes the bill, but this time the U.S. Senate is taking the lead, Juhnke said. The Senate Agriculture Committee held the first in a series of hearings on the bill earlier this month.

“Sen. Franken thinks this is the time to get the bill out,” Juhnke said. “We think all the stars are aligned and are hopeful we can move forward.”

While the legislation is colloquially known as the farm bill, more than 70 percent of its funding is directed toward nutrition efforts, Juhnke said. About 18 percent of funds go to conservation, commodity and crop insurance. The remaining funds are used for rural development, research and other programs.

The bill will include cuts regardless of who writes and agrees on it, Juhnke said. President Barack Obama’s recent budget proposal calls for cutting $40 billion from the bill; Franken and other senators hope to cut about $23 billion, Juhnke said.

Juhnke said he hopes research funding is spared, which he said accounts for a small percentage of the overall bill but has a large impact on agriculture.

Juhnke also predicted an end to direct payments for farmers growing crops such as corn and soybeans, payments he hopes will be replaced by a strong insurance program.

While some farmers raised concerns about the proposed change, Winona County Farm Bureau president Glen Groth said he supports replacing direct payments with an insurance system.

“I can live without direct payments,” he said. “We can do better. You’ve got to recognize that the government plays a role in risk management.”

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