The 2014 farm bill is set to expire in just over one week, raising concerns about disruptions in a number of programs, including one of the largest conservation programs as well as much smaller programs that help commodity groups open overseas markets.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts plans to call the first formal meeting of the farm bill conference committee shortly after the Labor Day recess and hopes to make headway by then in settling differences with the House negotiators.
The Senate's nine farm bill negotiators include Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who wants the legislation finalized next month, as well as a Democrat facing a tough re-election race this fall, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
The Senate looks to finally name its team of farm bill negotiators this week while also finishing work on a $154 billion spending bill for a bevy of departments and agencies important to agriculture, including USDA and FDA.
The House took a step Wednesday toward beginning formal negotiations with the Senate over a new farm bill and overwhelmingly voted in favor of including permanent funding for USDA efforts to combat animal diseases.
The fate of the farm bill this year could hinge on whether House and Senate negotiators can find a compromise on tightening work requirements for food stamp recipients in ways that could appeal to at least some Senate Democrats.
The passage of the House and Senate farm bills over two weeks and the overwhelming, bipartisan margin of support for the Senate measure is providing new optimism that Congress can agree on a final version that President Donald Trump will sign this fall.