WASHINGTON — The Senate approved a nearly 1,000-page farm bill Thursday, with both members from Arkansas voting against the measure over an ongoing dispute on how rice growers are treated.

WASHINGTON — The Senate approved a nearly 1,000-page farm bill Thursday, with both members from Arkansas voting against the measure over an ongoing dispute on how rice growers are treated.

“This plan will compromise tens of thousands of jobs in Arkansas and billions in economic activity,” said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.

“Although the Senate’s version of the farm bill includes a number of important reforms, the commodity section lacks vital protection for southern farmers, especially rice and peanuts,” said Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.

Nearly 1.5 million acres of Arkansas farmland are devoted to rice, accounting for half of the U.S. crop.

The bill passed, 64-35, after more than three-dozen roll call votes were cast on amendments over the week to a variety of agriculture and nutrition programs.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the bill would save $23 billion over the next decade compared with spending under current policies that were established in a 2008 farm bill that expires at the end of September.

The 2012 bill would eliminate direct payments to farmers, replace four farm commodity subsidy programs with one, and consolidate 23 conservation programs into 13. It also would seek greater efficiencies in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Food stamp spending has doubled in the past five years as the economy faltered.

The Senate bill’s expanded reliance on crop insurance and a revenue-based subsidy program to cover “shallow losses” is a sore point with southern farmers whose irrigated crops are less prone to poor harvests but are more susceptible to rising production costs and falling prices in the global market.

Randy Veach, president of Arkansas Farm Bureau, said the Senate bill failed to provide a safety net for much of southern agriculture.

“Rice, in particular, is left without any programs that help farmers manage their risk. That, alone, makes this legislation unacceptable to us,” he said.

Rice farmers are calling for federal payments triggered when prices hit a floor of $13.98 per hundredweight. The current direct payment system is triggered at $10.50 but rice farmers say that fails to take into account higher production costs.

At a March hearing, Arkansas rice farmer Dow Brantley told the House Agriculture Committee that price protection is key.

“Crop insurance hasn’t worked on our farm or many others like ours in Arkansas,” he said.

Brantley has an 8,500-acre farm near England, in central Arkansas.

Boozman and Pryor agree that a one-size-fits-all crop insurance program does not work for rice growers in Southern states.

The senators from Arkansas hope the issue can be resolved when a final bill is negotiated between the House and Senate.

“Fortunately, Senate passage of this bill is not the end of the road,” Pryor said.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said his committee would meet on July 11 to consider its own farm bill that “saves taxpayers billions of dollars, recognizes the diversity of American agriculture, respects the risks producers face, and preserves the tools necessary for food production.”

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, who serves on the panel, indicated that he would also oppose a “one-size-fits-all” approach to agricultural production.

“Farmers in my district grow crops that face tremendous market uncertainty where if prices swing too far in one direction, it could be enough to put a farmer out of business,” he said. “The House bill must be reflective of the farmer’s production risk – whatever that may be.”

Pryor said he was also frustrated that an amendment offered by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was approved striking a catfish inspection program that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was set to begin.

“The bill no longer contains an important safety inspection measure meant to protect Americans from contaminated catfish imported from overseas,” Pryor said. “Not only does this action put our safety at risk, it allows contaminated and cheaper imports to disrupt the Arkansas catfish industry.”

The 2008 farm bill required USDA to inspect catfish rather than the Food and Drug Administration. The Senate, however, by voice vote, agreed to leave catfish inspection to the Food and Drug Administration.

Boozman won approval of an amendment that would set aside up to $1 million a year to encourage research into agricultural law.

A second Boozman amendment that would have eliminated bonus payments to the Emergency Food Assistance Program that states receive for having low improper payment rates was rejected, 35-63. Pryor voted for it.

Boozman said that states should not need a bonus to run a program properly. Instead, he would send the bonus money to local food bank programs to purchase more commodities.