The U.S. House-Senate committee charged with hashing out a Farm Bill compromise convened Wednesday with a call to uphold the farm safety net.

“Put simply, we are in the fifth year of a severe recession in farm country, and it doesn’t appear to be letting up any time soon,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said in prepared remarks.

Conaway said farmers’ income has fallen by roughly half since the last Farm Bill was in conference committee in 2013, and that farm bankruptcies are up almost 40 percent over the past two years.

As a result, assuring “predictability and stability” in farmer aid programs should be the committee’s top priority, he said.

Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow, the top Senate Democrat on the panel, said the bill also needs to help beginning farmers, support organic research, and establish “meaningful” payment limits.

One of the major criticisms of the Farm Bill is that even quite wealthy people have received benefits.

Both leaders acknowledged that nutrition programs could be a bone of contention. The House plan includes cuts that the Senate didn’t pass.

The high-stakes negotiation opens at a busy time in Washington. Senators are scrutinizing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and members of both houses are looking toward November’s election.

Still, the committee will need to buckle down if it hopes to reach a compromise by the end of this month. That’s when the current Farm Bill expires.

Phil Gruber is the news editor at Lancaster Farming. He can be reached at (717) 721-4427 or Follow him @PhilLancFarming on Twitter.