If positive statements from key farm bill negotiators are accurate a new farm bill could be up for a vote later this month.

Even so, as Congress reconvened in January several legislative issues are threatening to slow the farm bill’s promised march to both chambers’ floors. Among those issues -- especially potent in an election year -- are ways to handle millions of jobless Americans whose unemployment insurance benefits recently ran out and a push for an increase in the nation’s minimum wage.

Of more immediate concern is the continuing inability of farm bill conferees to coalesce around a nutrition funding cut number -- currently a reported $9 billion -- acceptable to enough members of either party to pass new legislation. The negotiated cut is unlikely to be palatable to a large faction of House Republicans (who have called for a $40 billion cut over a decade) and equally unacceptable to many Democrats (who have called for a cut of $4 billion).

Also in the mix: the last quarter of 2013 brought fears of negative consequences for U.S. agriculture-related trade on several fronts.

First, the White House cautioned that record U.S. agricultural exports were under threat (http://deltafarmpress.com/government/lack-farm-bill-places-record-exports-jeopardy) without a new farm bill.

“We’ve experienced the strongest five-year period in the history of agricultural exports,” said Michael Scuse, USDA undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services in mid-December. “This past year was a record-breaking year of $140.9 billion in agricultural exports. It surpasses the record of two years, which was just over $137 billion. Last year, the number was $136 billion.

Federally-funded export programs were a critical piece of that export success, the White House pointed out.

“We have a need to continue this momentum and use some of these export programs that have been at our disposal in the past,” said Scuse. “We need a farm bill so we have these programs … to help small and medium-sized companies get into the foreign markets and promote their products. … It isn’t just about promoting agricultural products. As (Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack) likes to point out, it’s a food, farm and jobs bill. Every $1 billion in foreign trade supports nearly 8,000 jobs.”

The need for quick passage of a new farm bill is especially critical, said Scuse, because “we’re going to run out of the carryover funds for many of our cooperators during the month of January.”