Extending the 2002 Farm Bill another two years is unlikely, Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, said at the annual Kansas Farm Bureau agriculture leadership breakfast in Hutchinson during the Kansas State Fair.
Chambliss, who heads the Senate Agriculture Committee, was a guest of Kansas Senator Pat Roberts at the breakfast and later that day at the Kansas State Fair.
"During budget reconciliation last year, I was a big fan of trying to get the 2002 Farm Bill extended for five years. Not because I didn't think we needed to write a new farm bill – I said we will write one in 2007," he says. "But if we had been able to extend a farm bill during the budget reconciliation process, we would have locked in the agriculture budget numbers."
In turn, that would have given Congress a baseline budget for the next Farm Bill. However, the House of Representatives shot down the extension proposal and that has snuffed out nearly all chances of extending the policy.
The current law works well. But there are flaws, he says.
"The commodity title of the current farm bill is working with cotton, corn and soybeans, but there are problems with wheat. We didn't get the right target price and the counter-cyclical program doesn’t' work if you don't get a crop. Even if we extend portions of the current farm bill, we have to address this issue of the wheat title," Chambliss says.
That there is no sugar provision in the current farm bill is another concern.
Beginning in 2008, the USDA's current sugar program will collapse under the weight of imports. Propping up U.S. sugar producers will cost $300 million the first year; several hundred million dollars each year thereafter.
"We don't have the money in the budget to afford a program like this. If we were to extend portions of the farm bill, we'd have to look at the sugar title," Chambliss explains.
Farmers and ranchers need more stability than a two-year extension would offer.
"Every farmer I know doesn't plan on a one or two-year basis. Equipment is bought based on a five to seven-year lifespan. We need to give farmers stability," he says.
Former U.S. Trade Representative Negotiator Rob Portman and his successor, Susan Schwab, have made agriculture a priority in trade negotiations, but only when agriculture benefits. That's the hold-up in World Trade Organization talks, which broke apart several months ago.
"If we don't get true market access for your corn products to go into European countries –then we're not going to have an agreement with the World Trade Organization," Chambliss says.
The next Farm Bill must be WTO-compliant.
"If not, we'll have lawsuits coming from Brazil, Argentina and others that attack our wheat and corn programs," he says. "I’m not going to write a farm bill that's going to allow your programs and your farm operation to be interrupted and be attacked by folks outside the U.S. who don't think our programs are WTO compliant."
The nation's cotton producers went through that process when Brazil sued the U.S., claiming the Step II cotton program was illegal. "Elimination of the Step II program costs cotton producers money right now," he says. "That's exactly why we can't have commodity title programs or any other programs in the farm bill that are not going to be approved by the WTO."