Hoping to push a new farm bill across the finish line during the lame duck session, on Nov. 29 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hosted leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees. While White House/Congress budget negotiations have predictably devolved into partisan sniping, participants at the Vilsack meeting expressed optimism that the new farm legislation can be quickly passed.

Among them was Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, who was re-elected as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee a day earlier. "I am proud of the work the Committee has completed over the past two years,” said Lucas in a statement. “We have provided valuable oversight of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that our agricultural producers are not burdened with unreasonable and costly regulations.

"And, we advanced a strong, reform-minded, fiscally responsible farm bill that can save billions of dollars and provide certainty to our agricultural producers. This process is not complete though I am confident that it’s just a matter of time.”

The new farm bill can’t come quickly enough for Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union (NFU) president. “We want a bill – a five-year farm bill. We’re doing everything we can to make that happen. We see enormous problems with an extension (of the 2008 farm bill) of any duration.”

Johnson also explained NFU’s positions on the budget negotiations, taxes and the recent decision by the EPA to not waive the Renewable Fuels Standard. Among his comments:

On current farm bill negotiations and the chances of new legislation versus an extension of 2008 law…

“We’re strongly opposed to an extension for a bunch of reasons.

“We still think there’s a very credible chance we can get a five-year farm bill passed through the lame duck session. The biggest reason is a five-year bill will deliver some deficit reduction – somewhere between $23 billion and $35 billion. An extension would provide no deficit reduction unless they cut something out of what would be extended.

“An extension would also give nothing for disaster relief. I can’t imagine a circumstance where we’d get an extension with deficit reduction and a disaster title to help heal the livestock sector. I don’t think the dollars or the political will are there to do that.”

On the difficulties of passing an extension…

“Doing an extension is much more difficult (now) than with previous farm bills. Again, the (proposed bills) have deficit reduction. We’ve never seen that during my lifetime – they always added a bit more money rather than cut some out.

“Another reason an extension is difficult is all the innovations put in the 2008 farm bill pretty much expire. With an extension, they won’t get funding. That seems kind of backwards. You’d think the more recent additions would be more relevant to current needs rather than things put in place many decades ago.

“An extension would protect the old things but not the new. Specifically, there were 37 new programs authorized in the 2008 farm bill totaling about $10 billion that disappear – disaster programs, the Energy Title, a number of conservation programs and beginner farmer programs.

“Presumably what’s happening right now is that you’ve got leaders of the (Senate and House agriculture committees) talking about how they can ‘marry up’ the provisions (in the two farm bill versions). Then, they could present a unified proposal to those assembling the pieces of whatever the ‘fiscal cliff’ legislation will be. That’s the vehicle for passing a five-year farm bill. So, yes, we still think passage has a real chance.”