WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate is ready to take a farm bill to conference committee.

“I’m very concerned that the process begin to move this week. There’s time enough to do it, but we have got to get started in putting together the final agreement,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Stabenow held a press conference July 15 to call for action from the House leadership to get their divided farm bill sent to the Senate. The current farm bill extension expires on Sept. 30, and Stabenow made it clear another extension isn’t in her plans.

“I’m not going to support an extension that leaves out big, important pieces of farm policy and continues big subsidies that we’ve all agreed should be eliminated. In the interest of taxpayers and reform, we need to get this done,” she said.

The House, on July 11, passed a commodity-only farm bill. After the House Agriculture Committee-passed comprehensive and unified farm bill failed to pass the House floor, the nutrition titles were separated from the non-nutrition titles.

The portion of the bill without the nutrition titles passed the House on July 11. Stabenow said she is ready to get to work on whatever the House sends.

“I’m willing to take whatever the House gives us and work with the chairman, (Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.,) and the ranking member of the House committee, (Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.,) and I’m confident we can put things back together that will be able to get bipartisan support,” she said.

Stabenow emphasized that she has been working with Lucas and Peterson throughout the process.

“Both he and I, since day one, have worked together to pass a five-year farm bill. I was proud to work with him on the super committee process on deficit reduction. I have always felt that if it were the leaders in the agriculture committees in the House and the Senate, that we could get this done. I feel that as strongly today,” she said.

“We need to have the leadership of the House supporting Chairman Lucas and ranking member Peterson because they know how to put together a unified bill.”

The Senate has twice assembled and passed a unified comprehensive farm bill to replace the 2008 farm bill. The House Ag Committee has twice passed and sent to House Speaker John Boehner its version of a farm bill.

Boehner refused to call the first version for a vote before Congress adjourned prior to the November 2012 elections, and the bill was not taken up after the lame-duck Congress returned.

The second bill failed on June 20, being voted down on a 234 no to 195 yes vote on the House floor.

“We can’t go to conference unless we have something that relates to the farm bill from the House,” Stabenow said.

That could be the commodity-only version, but Stabenow noted that time is running out to get the bills conferenced and get a final bill created and voted on by the Senate and House. She said there are only six legislative weeks, about 24 working days as of July 15, before the Sept. 30 expiration of the current extension.

“There’s no reason to wait or delay the process any more,” she said.

The House bill also would repeal the permanent law of 1949, which always has been a strong incentive for lawmakers to create and implement a new farm bill every five years. If they do not and if they do not extend the existing farm bill, farm programs enacted in 1949 take effect.

Various ag groups have voiced concern and opposition to repealing the 1949 law, thus providing no reason for lawmakers to pass a farm bill every five years.

“This is a very, very serious issue, and I know, in talking to the agricultural groups, this ranks very high, if not the top concern that they have about what was passed Thursday,” Stabenow said. “There are wide, wide implications on this.”

She said those lobbying for repeal of the 1949 and 1938 permanent laws should explain to their farming and agriculture constituencies the advantages of a repeal.

“The first thing we need to know is why that’s good for agriculture, long term. There’s a tremendous amount of questions, a tremendous amount of opposition to doing this and great concern that this would take away the pressure that’s been there to make sure we have a comprehensive farm bill and that we update agriculture and conservation policy every five years,” she said.

Stabenow said a comprehensive, unified farm bill can be achieved with bipartisan cooperation in the Senate and in the House.

“We’re not going to negotiate with the extreme elements of the House who basically don’t believe we should support agriculture, we shouldn’t support farmers and ranchers, that we shouldn’t have a safety net for families or for farmers. We can’t negotiate with that position, so we will be negotiating with a bipartisan coalition of people who understand the importance of rural America,” she said.

“We’ll negotiate with the folks that understand that this is the riskiest business of any business anywhere. Nobody else has to worry how much it’s going to rain this week as to whether or not they’re going to have a product. There are plenty of folks in the House who understand that, Democrats and Republicans, and that’s who we’ll work with.”