House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, in an unusually blunt confrontation with a senior USDA official, threatened to sue the department for resuming enrollment Wednesday in the “continuous” portion of the Conservation Reserve Program.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue provided the implementation dates for the 2018 farm bill, saying the first payments to dairy producers could be delivered in July, and he told lawmakers that the White House is working on a comprehensive immigration reform proposal with the help of a USDA adviser.
Advocates for dairy farmers pressed USDA officials at a farm bill listening session to move quickly to get payments to financially strapped producers, while other groups urged the department to put a priority on removing barriers to cover crops and scheduling signups for major conservation programs.
Congress chose the Prairie Pothole Region to try out shorter-term Conservation Reserve Program contracts, infusing the 34-year-old program with lower-cost alternatives for farmers wanting to idle their least productive cropland.
The new farm bill largely preserves the commodity and conservation programs but it includes some significant improvements for dairy producers and also would raise price floors for sugar and other commodities.
The average farmer probably won’t notice anytime soon that the 2014 farm bill has expired, but producers who try to sign up for some conservation programs could be turned away, and some commodity groups will have to go without some trade promotion funding on which they have counted.
When House and Senate negotiators sit down in coming days to start writing the final version of a new farm bill, they will find that many of their sharpest differences will be over how far they should reshape and fund conservation programs.