The Senate has given final approval to its version of a federal farm policy and officials say that Democrats and Republicans could begin working to resolve their differences on the issue by Friday.
The Senate voted 58-40 Wednesday in favor of a measure pushed by Senate Democrats, led by Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that would spend $46 billion for farm price supports and other agriculture subsidy programs.
It differs from the version of the farm bill approved last year by the Republican-controlled House, which calls for $36 billion in agriculture subsidies.
The House and Senate now must create a conference committee to meet and resolve differences between the two versions before anything can be sent to President Bush for his consideration.
The Senate must formally report their bill to the House before anything could happen, although officials say negotiations could begin as soon as Friday.
The National Farmers Union called the Senate passage of the bill to be "a victory," since it came following nearly three months of dickering.
"We commend the Senate for rectifying many of the multiple faults in existing commodity programs that farmers union has expressed for years," president Leland Swenson said.
The farm bill also includes separate issues that were included in many amendments. One of those amendments -- restricting meatpacking plants from owning livestock -- could be a sticking point, as the livestock industry is counting on GOP allies to strike the issue from the finished product.
Another amendment related to water rights remained in the farm bill approved by the Senate, prompting an objection from the American Farm Bureau Federation.
"We are ... disappointed that the Senate voted ... to impose stringent limitations on farm payments," President Bob Stallman said. "We believe that action will hurt family farmers, the group that payment limitation proponents say they are trying to help."
Among the rank-and-file, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he hopes the farm bill that comes out of conference committee differs significantly from what was approved Wednesday.
He believes the bill forces farmers to rely on the production of a crop in order to receive the bulk of their assistance through loan deficiency payments, which hurts farmers who suffer crop losses.
He also thinks higher loan rates and target prices for farmers are provided by phasing out of direct payments by 2006.
"The bill was much more about granting the wishes of lobbyists and special interests than it was about laying out a workable farm program for producers over the next five years," Roberts said.
But Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., praised the bill for providing increased aid to dairy farmers, creating a program to eradicate Johne's Disease and promoting fair trade practices and accurate labeling of Ginseng products sold in the United States.
"This farm bill takes a positive step toward meeting the needs of Wisconsin farmers and strengthening our rural economy nationwide," Feingold said.
Subcommittee reviews ag risk protection law
A House subcommittee met Wednesday to study the progress of the Agricultural Risk Protection Act.
The subcommittee on general farm commodities noted the law has been in place for 18 months, and was meant to provide better coverage at more affordable prices, better access to revenue coverage and protection against the effect of multiple year disasters on production history.
"Reforms have strengthened the federal crop insurance program," Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said. "It has become a successful, popular risk management tool for producers, and we hope to continue to see more producers utilize it."
Iowa to outlaw livestock ownership
While Congress quibbles over whether meatpackers across the country should be prohibited from owning livestock, Iowa officials intend to make it law in their state.
Legislative leaders say they intend to pass a law saying that meatpackers cannot own livestock operations in Iowa. They say that such ownership interferes with the market and forces prices paid to livestock ranchers to drop unfairly.
The Des Moines Register reported that a proposal is being drafted, and could be ready for consideration by next week. Officials noted that Smithfield Foods Inc. recently provided $79 million for the purchase of Iowa assets of Murphy Farms Inc.
Armyworms not now a problem for wheat farmers
Wheat farmers who are concerned about armyworms infesting their fields do not need to be concerned too much, provided that the outbreak does not occur in autumn.
The Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station said that they have noticed that the only outbreaks that caused severe damage to the crop were the ones that occurred late in the wheat season, when the plant is devoting its energy to growing its seed head.
"It has a lot to do with timing," entomologist Tim Kring said, noting that now, the leaves contribute little to the plant's development. Any loss to the worms would have little or no impact on wheat yields.
Grains higher on CBOT
Grain futures were mostly higher at the close Wednesday on the Chicago Board of Trade.
Soybeans benefited from carryover enthusiasm for Tuesday's price gains and a lack of any new information about soybean crops in Argentina that could otherwise negatively affect the price for U.S.-grown soybeans.
Corn gained on follow-through buying from Tuesday combined with the positive influence of soybean price gains.
Wheat gained slightly on ongoing forecasts for dry weather through parts of the hard red winter wheat growing region in the United States combined with holidays in China and Brazil that prevented wheat crops there from hurting U.S. crops.
Oats fell on consolidation from the market's recent higher levels.
Soybeans: Mar 4.39 1/2 up 3 1/4, May 4.44 up 4 1/4, Jul 4.47 1/2 up 4, Aug 4.47 3/4 up 4 3/4.
Corn: Mar 2.08 3/4 up 3, May 2.15 3/4 up 3, Jul 2.21 3/4 up 3, Sep 2.27 1/4 up 3.
Wheat: Mar 2.82 1/4 up 1 1/2, May 2.89 1/4 up 2 1/4, Jul 2.92 up 1, Sep 2.96 1/2 up 1 1/2.
Oats: Mar 2.04 1/4 unch, May 1.87 up 1/4, Jul 1.63 1/4 off 1/2, Sep 1.40 1/2 unch.