A federal appeals court this week dismissed an attempt to force a referendum over the government's fee-driven promotional campaign for beef.
USDA decided in January not to hold the vote, saying ranchers failed to submit enough valid petitions. A Nebraska rancher challenged the ruling, but the appeals court dismissed the case, saying it lacked jurisdiction.
Increasingly, farmers and ranchers are seeking greater control over what they produce and how they market. But there's little doubt the government casts a long shadow over those decisions. How long that remains the case is in doubt, as rising budget concerns loom over the upcoming farm bill debate.
When lawmakers passed the "Freedom to Farm" Act in 1996, politicians claimed it would gradually curtail farm subsidies.
But in the past three years, as prices for corn, rice and other raw commodities tumbled, Congress passed a series of bailouts... sending billions of dollars in additional aid to America's farmers.
Now, in the midst of a lethargic economy, with grim forecasts and dwindling surpluses, the budget constraints are casting an ominous cloud over the next Farm Bill.
Nevertheless, House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Larry Combest of Texas, hopes to begin debate, next week, on a bill that would spend 168-billion dollars over the next 10 years on agricultural programs.
Sen. Kent Conrad: "We've got a pie here, it's somewhat smaller..."
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota claims any attempt to pass a bill, this year, replacing programs that expire in 2002 is, "in serious trouble." Farm-state lawmakers are concerned that tighter budgets will force agricultural programs to compete with other spending priorities, including education and defense.
For a second straight year, sugar growers will be encouraged to destroy crops in an effort to shore up prices and reduce government-held stockpiles.
USDA says growers who agree to plow under crops will each be given up to 20-thousand dollars worth of sugar from the government. The sugar industry is split over the effectiveness of the proposal. Beet producers seem to favor it ... cane growers oppose it. At least a dozen members of Congress also tell USDA they dislike the idea.