While rainfall may define the fortunes of many in agriculture, there is growing evidence the single biggest factor in the nation's farm economy is the government. Currently, the document that will define the government's participation lies in the hands of Congress, whose members are still shaping the next farm bill. However, the Senate and House versions of the legislation differ considerably and progress on the measure is stagnating.
House members don't like the Senate farm bill. Senate members don't like the House farm bill. The White House isn't crazy about either version. Is it any wonder conference committee talks to hammer out differences between the two are stagnating?
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, a Texas Republican, recently labeled the Senate farm bill "an atrocity." Combest, who is presiding over the conference committee talks, says the Senate bill would hurt farmers in the southern U.S. because it places a cap on government subsidies.
That sentiment was backed this week by university economists, who in studying the two bills concluded the Senate version favors farmers in the Northern Plains, while the House version favors producers in the South. The economists also said the Senate bill would provide quicker short-term relief for farmers ... and the House version slightly higher income after 2003.
Not helping progress on the legislation is the revelation on Friday of a multi-billion dollar error by congressional budget analysts. The mistake means the Senate version of the farm bill is more than six billion dollars over the spending limit established in a congressional budget agreement. Stay tuned ...