The Farm Bill debate is heating up as fast as the last of this spring's snowdrifts melt down. Commodity groups are furiously submitting their recommendations for Congressional consideration on what programs they want supported. And as expected, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has already weighed in with USDA's 2007 Farm Bill proposals, which took two years and 52 farm bill forums from across the country to develop.
You'll hear and see plenty from the press in the next few months about who wants what and how much. But if new House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) has his way, the new farm bill will be on the president's desk before the current farm bill expires on September 30. That hasn't happened in a while.
Peterson says he intends to get the bill out of the House before the August recess, and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) plans to do the same. Then Congress could work out a conference agreement over the August break, finish tough issues in early September and get the bill on the president's desk by the end of that month.
The 2002 Farm Bill has generally gotten favorable reviews from rural America. In fact, Peterson says farm programs have come in about $17 billion under budget over the last five years. That makes everyone up and down the food chain smile.
USDA's proposal would increase conservation funding by a whopping $7.8 billion, and Johanns says simplify and consolidate conservation programs. It would also provide $1.6 billion in new funding for renewable energy research, development and production — targeted for cellulosic ethanol, which will support $2.1 billion in guaranteed loans for cellulosic projects.
Johanns says the Administration's proposal would also strengthen disaster relief by establishing a revenue-based counter-cyclical program, providing gap coverage in crop insurance, linking crop insurance participation to farm program participation, and creating a new emergency landscape restoration program.
According to the agriculture secretary, USDA's new proposals would provide about $5 billion more than the projected spending if the 2002 Farm Bill were extended.
For more details on the USDA plan plus how proposals from major commodity associations size up, see Larry Stalcup's story “Farm Bill 2007” on pages 11-12.
For some time now we've heard that the 2007 Farm Bill would likely be the same, but different. So far, many aspects of the 2002 bill are included in the USDA proposal. But the hard-core negotiating is just beginning. And besides U.S. farmers, the world is watching the farm bill debate, especially Brazil and the European Union who have complained that it doesn't make enough cuts in grower subsidies to satisfy World Trade Organization negotiators.
We'll keep you posted on the debate with regular updates in the magazine, plus on our Web site. Check us out at: www.cornandsoybeandigest.com.