No new farm law until 2008: Farm Bureau chief

CHANTILLY, Virginia (Reuters) - Congress will not pass a new U.S. farm law until “the first part of next year,” said the president of the largest U.S. farm group on Monday, referring to the $288 billion bill that has been deadlocked in the Senate.

It would be the third time in a row that enactment of a farm law comes months later than targeted. The 1996 and 2002 farm laws originally were expected in 1995 and 2001.

Farm bills are panoramic legislation that set the terms for crop subsidy, public nutrition, land stewardship, agricultural research, rural development and export programs. More than 60 percent of Agriculture Department spending is on nutrition programs such as food stamps and school lunch.

“I’m cautiously optimistic we will get a bill out of the Senate,” said Bill Stallman, president of the 6 million-member American Farm Bureau Federation, during a speech to Virginia Farm Bureau members.

After that, negotiators from the House and Senate would write a final version of the farm bill and submit it to the White House. Stallman said “all of that will drag into the first part of next year.”

The Senate bill would offer grain, cotton and soybean farmers the chance to enroll in a program guaranteeing crop revenue. A similar program is part of the House farm bill.

On November 16, Republican senators blocked majority-party Democrats from setting a 30-hour debate limit on the farm bill in a disagreement over which amendments would be eligible for debate.

“In an effort to complete Senate action on the farm bill this session, Senators and staff are working over the Thanksgiving recess to reach a deal that allows debate and votes on a limited set of amendments,” said a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid in an e-mail.

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin said on Monday the Iowa Democrat hopes to move the bill soon. Congress reconvenes next week for the final three weeks of its 2007 session.

The White House has threatened to veto the Senate and House farm bills. It says the bills include tax increases, unwisely increase support rates for some crops and use accounting gimmicks to disguise their costs.

In a statement, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association said a two-year extension of the 2002 law “is not an acceptable resolution.” A bill for a one-year extension has been filed in the House.

Additional reporting by Charles Abbott in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio