Big differences still remain between U.S. House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill, according to U.S. Ag Secretary Ed Shafer. Speaking to the North American Ag Journalists on Monday, he added, "Until those issues are resolved, they can't settle on key farm bill provisions. And the President has made it clear that we can't have extensions after extensions."
At this point, the joint committee working on the Farm Bill has until April 18 to get the job done. And many needs are waiting.
"Currently, we are around $10 billion over (budget) baseline," noted Schafer. "We need money for conservation. And producers need to know what program details they're going to be operating under this year."
Food and feed versus fuel
While acknowledging that rising food costs are overshadowing biofuel (ethanol) subsidies, he defended agriculture, noting that [high grain prices] are not the driving factors behind rising food costs. Fuel-related transportation, packaging and retail are far bigger factors.
Shafer was questioned on whether actions to ease the domestic food cost concerns were being discussed. "I don't believe we are anywhere near the position where we need to take drastic action [such as export embargoes]."
He was also questioned about whether USDA is exploring means to help the livestock industry, that's struggling with high feed costs. "Farms with Conservation Reserve Program acres already can 'opt out' if they choose," he responded. "But looking at the numbers, you can't change the CRP program enough to solve the problem. And disaster assistance has to be short-term to avoid a WTO conflict."