For the time being the farm lobby will focus on the future of ethanol. But both senate and house agriculture committees are currently working on proposals to overhaul the nation's omnibus farm law. However, budget restraints in the wake of the war on terrorism are likely to quash any consideration of the expensive house version. But it could be a different story in the senate committee.
On the Senate side, Committee Chairman, Tom Harkin of Iowa, and Ranking Member, Richard Lugar of Indiana, issued a joint statement outlining their thoughts as to what should be included in the next farm bill.
Senator Tom Harkin, Iowa: "When we began the process of crafting a new farm bill we decided that the policy needed to be both a significant change from past policies and had to be a bipartisan approach."
The bill is expected to center on so-called "counter-cyclical" payments that go to producers when market prices drop below certain levels. The Senate measure also will likely continue to allow farmers the flexibility to plant a crop of their choosing.
The proposed language of the legislation will focus on increasing farm income, protecting the environment, encouraging the development of farm-based renewable energy sources and expanding trade opportunities.
Lugar and Harkin have joined the chorus of criticism directed toward previous farm bills. They berated the disproportionate distribution of federal funds mostly to grain, oilseed and fiber producers, and the costly price supports that encouraged over production .
Senator Richard Lugar, Indiana: "We are producing so much, it is coming up around our ears."
Since 1998, the government has spent $30.5 billion dollars over and above what was allocated as part of the 7-year series of declining payments set-forth in the 1996 Farm Law. During that same time period, farmers have watched land values increase by 20% and farm income climb slightly above record levels set in 1993. All of the extra funds have contributed to the general feeling that much of agriculture is supported by a bubble of federal dollars.
Secretary of Agriculture Anne Veneman testified this week in support of the Senate committee's proposal, which closely mirrors the U-S-D-A's policy recommendations.
Anne Veneman, Secretary USDA: "it will take time to take a deliberative approach."
With an eye on deliberate and careful movement, Senator Lugar has suggested delaying work on the farm bill until the government sorts out its response to the terrorist attacks of two weeks ago.
Lost, at least for the moment, in the revised focus of Congress has been the so-called NorthEast Dairy Compact. Authority for the milk pricing system that has boosted farm gate and consumer milk prices in New England ends October 1. Congress may yet renew it. The Senate will certainly try. Democrats owe their thin majority in that body to the shift of allegiance of Compact advocate, Vermont Senator James Jeffords. One of the reasons for his shift was the Bush administration and general republican disinterest in the dairy compact.