As Congress decides whether to move on a new farm bill or to continue to punt the issue into next year, some wonder if this could be the last farm bill available to U.S. producers.

“Now and in the future, the farm bill will become less relevant,” said Texas Farm Bureau associate legislative director Ken Hodges. “The relevance of the farm bill has declined over time. I wonder if this will be the last one.”

If it is the last, it could be remembered for the length of time necessary to enact it.

(For more, see: Farm bill passage — just in time for Christmas?)

Hodges told participants in the 24th annual Texas Plant Protection Association Conference that Washington insiders now say “the farm bill is at least on the leader board. It is being discussed. But it will not be the ag leaders who will decide on a ‘Grand Bargain.’” That will be the president, the speaker of the House and the Senate leader, he said.

When a new farm bill becomes law, it will be different, Hodges added. “Direct payments likely will cease.” But that may not occur in time to be part of farm law in 2013 as the Farm Service Agency will need time to develop rules for any new law.

And, once again, farm programs are being debated under budget pressure. But both farm bill proposals, the Senate version and the House proposal, make significant cuts. “Agriculture can bring something to the table to help balance the budget,” he said.

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

He said the process of balancing a budget and enacting a farm bill is in place. “The government process is set up properly. But people in office ignore the process. We have to hold them responsible and accountable. I hear positive things about our ag leadership in Congress. They are working to get a farm bill done.”

Hodges said speculation that the current farm bill could be extended for one year and followed by a new law that would run for four years is not what he expects to happen.

He also said direct payments have been an important tool for farmers and their lenders to develop loan agreements.

He recalled that direct payments were included in the 1996 farm law as a step toward phasing out commodity programs and was “written in a time of high commodity prices.” Target prices in the currently proposed House ag committee bill may seem irrelevant, he said. “But prices will likely come back down and farmers will need a floor.”

Hodges said American farmers, regardless of legislation, will continue to produce yield and bring in a crop. “They will need technology and industry products to produce more and with fewer natural resources.”