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Prospects for 2012 farm bill remain uncertain

WASHINGTON — Advocates for a 2012 farm bill are questioning whether Congress has enough time or the political will to pass massive farm policy legislation, suggesting that lawmakers may agree to a short extension instead, which could be bad news for the specialty crop industry.

At a Nov. 14 meeting, Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition, said it is conceivable that Congress could pass the five-year legislation, but it would have to jump through hoops by passing a bill on the House floor, conferencing out the differences between the bills and scheduling both chambers to vote on a conference report before the lame duck session ends in December.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty about the farm bill,” said Tom O’Brien, Washington, DC, representative for the Produce Marketing Association.

While agriculture associations have written House Speaker John Boehner about the need to reauthorize the farm bill, the larger issues that for months have snagged the legislation are still getting more attention, Mr. O’Brien said.

But in Washington, DC, it’s very difficult to predict the outcome of lame duck sessions and the farm bill still may have a chance.

News reports quote House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas as saying he has received assurances from Speaker Boehner that the legislation is on the agenda, particularly because it promises $35 billion in savings that could be used to pay for unrelated tax legislation.

Still, Mr. Hoefner said that a one-year extension would be damaging because important programs that develop value-added agriculture, help new farmers, promote organic agriculture and help businesses market their products would not be funded until Congress approves a new farm bill.

“The best option is to get a bill done now,” he said. “But if not, we will need to take seriously what’s in the extension bill.”