Chuck Conner, acting USDA secretary of agriculture, did not sugar coat his message to American Farm Bureau Federation members at the opening session of their 89th annual meeting on Sunday.
"It would be great to tell you we are only a few steps away from passage and signing of the farm bill," he stated. "But that's just not the case. The administration has fundamental differences with Congress and the two versions today are not on a road to passage."
Connor said one big sticking point is that both versions call for tax increases for new money to fund programs. "The president is against any tax increase." He noted than in every major bill last year there were attempts made to increase taxes. "The president was able to stop all tax increases. His answer won't be any different with the farm bill. We just don't believe other sectors of society should be asked to pay for farm programs."
He added that "attempts to do this when commodity prices are high would paint bull's eyes on the backs of farmers. We don't want to do that."
Connor pointed out the Administration is also concerned about what is not in the bill at this time. "We are looking for serious reform in farm policy such as income limits. Our proposal is a $200,000 adjusted gross income for three consecutive years."
Another road block is permanent disaster relief. "We don't like permanent disaster authority," declared Connor. "We favor countercyclical payments instead of disaster payments."
Nevertheless, Connor said "We still have time to come up with a farm bill that is fair to taxpayers and yet builds a safety net for producers."
He also noted March 15 is a key date for farm policy legislation. "If Congress doesn't pass and the president signs a farm bill by that date we are required by law to put 1949 policy into effect."
He noted, however, that Congress could direct USDA to do something different.
The acting secretary pointed out that even though differences remain, "a lot is going on with farm bill discussions outside a formal committee." For one thing, he has had discussions with House Ag Committee chairman Collin Peterson, D -Minn. "I better understand what he needs in a farm bill and he understands we are serious about our concerns. Collin wants to work with the Administration to get a bill the President can sign."