Mark it down. Barry Flinchbaugh, a fixture in every Farm Bill discussion since 1968, predicts President George W. Bush will sign the 2007 Farm Bill by the end of the year.
If not, farmers may be in big trouble. The 2002 Farm Bill expired Sept. 30, at which time it is supposed to revert to the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, Among other things, that law would force the U.S. to store its grain, allowing the rest of the world to sell their grain stocks and locking the U.S. out of global competition.
"There would be a referendum for mandatory production controls, which we all know is unacceptable. This holds Congress's feet to the fire," says Flinchbaugh, who spoke last month at the Kansas Commodity Classic in Salina.
The threat of the 1938 legislation will force Congress to do something – even if it means extending the current 2002 Farm Bill another year. Kansas Congressman Jerry Moran, in fact, introduced a bill to the House last month to do just that.
The important question is how did Congress get in this precarious position? In July, the House unanimously passed its version of the Farm Bill, giving plenty of time for the Senate to develop their version, after which the two sides would hash out the differences. But the bill stalled in the Senate, much to Flinchbaugh's chagrin.
"There is no excuse for the Senate to take this long to pass a Farm Bill. We've got ourselves in a real mess," he says.
That mess is a perfect storm of record farm income - $87.5 billion in 2007, says Flinchbaugh. It's tough to debate the merits of a farm safety net when farmers appear to be flush with cash.
At the same time, the popular press, including The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times, all take turns bashing the Farm Bill. Flinchbaugh recounts the following statement he made to a Wall Street Journal reporter not long ago: "We don't like farmers; they're worthless. All they do is feed us."
Fortunately, House Agriculture Committee Colin Peterson, D-MN, played smart politics with the House version. He purposely left out the Conservation Security Program, a pet project of Senate Ag Committee Chair Tom Harkin's.
Flinchbaugh imagines their conversation would sound something like this:
Harkin: Damn you, Peterson. I must have a fully funded CSP. I staked my reputation on it.
Peterson: Tom, I think we can make a deal. You take my language on commodity programs and I'll take yours on conversation.
The bill will be signed New Year's Eve in Crawford, Texas.