Delegates to the National Farmers Union’s annual meeting in Las Vegas called on the Bush administration and congressional leaders to resolve their differences so a new farm bill can be enacted immediately.

If the House and Senate and Bush administration representatives can’t make that happen in a timely manner, the delegates asked that permanent law be allowed to take effect rather than Congress passing another extension of the 2002 farm bill.

“This is crunch time,” said National Farmers Union President Tom Buis. “In the last year, the House and Senate have both passed very good farm bills that will benefit all Americans. It is time for the administration to put aside philosophical considerations and negotiate a bill with the Congress.”

In recent days, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson has said he favors a short-term extension of the farm bill beyond the March 15 date when the current extension runs out. Peterson had been saying he would allow the Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1938 and the Agriculture Act of 1949 to take effect absent a new law.

Peterson’s change of position is being seen by some observers as an indication he and Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner, the administration spokesman on the farm bill, may be nearing an agreement. (USDA has released a paper outlining how it would implement the 1938 and 1949 acts if no action is taken on the farm bill by March 15.)

Buis said the reason for the broad support in Congress for both versions of the bill is because of the increases in spending for nutrition, conservation, renewable energy, specialty crop and rural development programs. Without these increases, it would be difficult to pass an extension of the 2002 bill.

“Both the House and Senate bills make record investments in rural America while maintaining a strong safety net for producers,” Buis said.

At press time, House and Senate and administration negotiators reportedly had narrowed the gap in a plan put forth by Peterson and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, to $9.6 billion.

Peterson and Goodlatte’s plan, which administration officials called a “step forward,” called for spending $6 billion over the Congressional Budget Office’s farm bill baseline over 10 years while Senate Agriculture Committee leaders said $12.5 billion would be needed.

With rapidly climbing input expenses, the NFU delegates reiterated support for a purely counter-cyclical safety net tied to the cost of production. Attendees at last month’s Commodity Classic in Nashville said some distributors are quoting prices of $700 per ton for anhydrous ammonia for delivery this fall.

The delegates also called upon the next president to pledge his or her support for restoring competition into agriculture markets and to select an attorney general who will enforce current anti-trust laws.

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