More than 80 agriculture, environmental and hunger relief organizations signed onto a letter that was sent to Capitol Hill Friday asking House and Senate Ag Committee leaders to write a new farm bill this year. The groups said an extension of current law would create tremendous uncertainty for farmers and fail to provide essential resources to prevent hunger and create jobs through rural economic development and investments in agricultural research.
Bush-era USDA Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner agrees the farm bill should be reauthorized this year, but says it won't happen if farm and commodity groups don't iron out their safety net differences.
"I think there is still a fundamental question out there to be answered before I can stand up here and say definitively what is going to happen in this next farm bill debate," Conner said. "And this is the question: Do farmers generally want a shallow loss program or do they want a safety net? We get that answered I think the payment limit questions and all that other stuff fall into place pretty quickly and we could have something that you could take to Congress and say with minimum controversy, even in an election year, we can probably get this done without taking up two or three weeks of the Senate's time and two or three weeks of the Houses time. I think that's possible."
Speaking at an agribusiness conference in Arkansas, Conner observed that getting a temporary extension of the 2008 Farm Bill through Congress would be just as difficult as passing a new bill. He added he hopes lawmakers don't wait until a post-election session to act.
"There is no question that if we have to rely on a lame-duck Congress to pass a farm bill we are in some pretty serious trouble," Conner said. "It's been my experience there's always talk about a legislative agenda in a lame-duck Congress, but a lame-duck is a lame duck and they just don't – I can maybe remember one time when there was serious legislative activity in that lame-duck Congress."
Conner currently serves as President and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.