The Senate passed an extension of the 2002 farm bill to give its and House Agriculture Committee leaders more time to try to reach an agreement with the White House on a new farm bill.

The House was considering similar legislation, which would extend the expiration date of the current law from March 15 to April 18. Congress extended the 2002 law to March 15 shortly before it would have expired last Sept. 30.

“Talks continue on a bipartisan basis between Senate and House negotiators and each day brings us closer to resolution,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and one of a group of farm-state congressmen who have been meeting with Bush administration officials on the farm bill.

“Although a new bill is within reach, Congress needs more time to reach agreement and obtain the necessary cooperation from the White House,” he said. “There is still a considerable amount of work ahead before we can pass a bill: obtaining the needed funding for the bill and fitting all of the demands within the funding we expect to be available.”

If the farm bill is allowed to expire, USDA must begin implementing what’s known as permanent law, the Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1938 and the Agriculture Act of 1949 because all subsequent farm bills have been amendments to those two laws.

The two laws would require USDA to conduct referendums on mandatory acreage control programs for cotton and wheat and would increase the Commodity Credit Corp. loan rates for several of the program crops to a percentage of parity. USDA estimates the CCC loan rate for cotton, for example, would rise to $1.32 per pound for base loan and grade.

“This short-term extension will ensure America’s farm and nutrition programs continue until the new farm bill is completed,” Harkin said in a statement released shortly after the Senate voted to extend the law. (Ag committee leaders originally planned to extend the new expiration date to April 15.)

The House was scheduled to vote on an extension later today (March 12).