California’s top agricultural leader believes Congress could become Santa instead of Scrooge by delivering an adopted farm bill by Christmas or shortly thereafter.

“I believe we will have a farm bill by the end of the year or shortly into 2013,” says Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Ross delivered the prediction Dec. 11 during the opening session of the 2012 California Alfalfa and Grains Symposium in Sacramento.

“We have a critical need to get this policy document through. We need to get it through this year,” Ross told the alfalfa and grain audience.

A huge stumbling block over Congress passing the next farm law is a mandate to slice sufficient funding dollars.

Ross says the previously passed Senate bipartisan version would create about $23 billion in savings. The U.S. House Ag Committee adopted a bipartisan proposal to cut about $33 billion in savings. The House version has failed to get a floor vote.

(For more, see: Financial uncertainty in farm country over TAG program)

“If we could get these two (versions) reconciled it could become part of the (budget) solution,” Ross explained. “It is the only bipartisan piece of legislation that has real dollar savings.”

The Nebraska farmer and former Chief of Staff to Agriculture Secretary Tom Villsack says agriculture has too much at stake for Congress to indefinitely delay the passage of a new farm law.

The 2012 farm bill expired in September which ended funding dollars to support USDA matching funding through the agency’s Market Access Program which helps expand U.S. farm exports.

To not have matching MAP dollars available is a “travesty,” Ross says. She pointed to California agriculture which heavily relies on farm exports. California exports 12 percent of the nation’s total farm exports.

“We all benefit tremendously from the Market Access Program.”

More than $17 billion of California farm products were exported last year, including $38 million of California-grown wheat.

cblake@farmpress.com