Senate version of farm bill on hold until 2002

Associate Editor

Washington, D.C. The Senate has given up trying to agree on an
overhaul of farm programs for 2001, which pushes the issue into an
election year in which control of the chamber is at stake.

Majority Democrats were unable last week to muster the 60 votes
necessary to bring a farm bill to a final vote. President Bush
opposed the bill, which would boost spending by nearly 80 percent
over the next decade.

Included in the bill are several conservation programs which
would be increased under the current version.

Allowed acres under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) would
increase from 36.4 million to 40 million. The Wetland Reserve
Program would be reauthorized through 2006 and the enrollment cap
would be increased. Funding would be substantially increased for
the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, and the Grassland Reserve
Program, a new conservation effort, would come into existence.

Tom Landwehr, Ducks Unlimited conservation director in
Minnesota, said passage of a farm bill might not occur until late
winter at the earliest, and possible be dragged out until spring or
summer.

Not passing a bill now puts in jeopardy some land currently
enrolled in CRP, but due to expire.

“In the current budget, there’s no money for WRP or CRP,” he
said. Without funds, the programs will not be able to take new
applications, and CRP won’t be re-enrolling those whose
conservation easements expire.

However, should a bill be passed soon, Landwehr said he hopes
“emergency” funds are made available to cover WRP and CRP
enrollment. If this happens, there could be money available for
spring and summer sign-ups, he said.

Democrats said the deadlock puts at risk $170 billion set aside
for farm programs in this year’s congressional agreement.

Republicans said Democrats were trying to ram through a partisan
bill to win political points with farm groups.

“I’m disappointed that the Senate has chosen to go down such a
partisan path,” said Bruce Knight, a lobbyist for the National Corn
Growers Association. “This is a lot more about control of the
Senate than the best way to provide a farm bill.”

Republicans contend there remains plenty of time and money
available to write a farm bill next year.

“What we have done today is give ourselves a second chance,”
said Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, ranking Republican on the
Senate Agriculture Committee.

The Democratic bill would reauthorize farm programs through
2006. Most of the money would continue to go to grain, cotton and
soybean farms, but the bill offers new subsidies for a variety of
additional commodities, including milk, honey and lentils. It also
would double spending on conservation.

The administration criticized both that bill and another one
passed by the GOP-controlled House in October and urged Congress to
delay finishing work on them until 2002. That bill increased
conservation funding, though not to the level encouraged by
wildlife and conservation groups.

Farm groups are worried that lawmakers will be less generous
with agricultural subsidies after the release next month of new
budget forecasts, which are expected to project several years of
deficits.

Philip Brasher, Associated Press, contributed to this story.

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