WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2013 – A long-term farm bill faces a “still unknown future” after the elections left the congressional balance of power largely intact as well as most of the leading lawmakers behind the legislative effort, according to Scott DeFife, executive vice president of policy and government affairs for the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

DeFife, speaking as part of a Jan. 31 web conference on the 2012 election impact of agriculture policy and commodities, said that while the “players have not changed, we know their motivations a little bit more.”

“The elections came and went,” DeFife said. “We maintained the current political structure.”

The only significant change involved Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., taking over as ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee from Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. Cochran is more supportive to assistance for Southern rice and peanut farmers.

DeFife did suggest there may be a change at the Agriculture Department. While Secretary Tom Vilsack will remain in his position “at least for the short term,” DeFife said, he has heard speculation that Vilsack is being “recruited to run for the seat in Iowa,” that will be vacated next year by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

What the lack of significant congressional power change means for the farm bill, he said, is the major sticking points over direct payments, nutrition, and the dairy program will remain as lawmakers move forward. DeFife said he expects the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and the House Agriculture Committee to introduce a new bill in March or April.

Echoing many other agricultural stakeholders, DeFife said Congress needs to settle several fiscal issues before movement occurs on a long-term farm bill. Still, he said, lawmakers could end up “in a stalemate of one-year extensions.”

DeFife said his organization pushed unsuccessfully to remove the Dairy Security Act language from the bill at the House committee level, and placed the blame on members who did not have a stake in the issue.

“They probably just voted with [their] chairman or ranking member,” he said.

Also part of the conference, Mike Mullins, vice president of corporate affairs at Cargill Inc., said his company is watching for whether lawmakers may try to add legislative language dealing with chicken cages into the farm bill.

Last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced legislation that would codify an agreement between the Human Society and the United Egg Producers to require producers to give each hen at least a hundred square inches of space in a cage.

The bill went nowhere, with opponents arguing it would drive the price of eggs up and small egg producers out of business.

“I can’t see the committees allowing the language into the farm bill,” Mullins said.


For more news, go to www.agri-pulse.com