It isn't enough that U.S. farmers have to worry about the weather, markets, Asian soybean rust, cotton fiber quality, and a multitude of other concerns. Now, they can add the 2007 farm bill to their already full plates.

In a recent speech, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Republican chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said rather candidly that he has “no idea” what the next farm bill will look like. This might have been too much candor for some of those in the audience, who undoubtedly were thinking that if this man doesn't know, then who does?

But he did go on to talk about a couple of factors that will have a major impact on the shaping of a new farm bill — budget deficits and world trade. “I can tell you the factors that will be in play for the next farm bill that we didn't have in 2002,” said Chambliss. “The first is the numbers. In 2002, we were in a surplus budget situation, so there was more money available than what we'll have in 2007.”

Secondly, he said, the Brazilian cotton case has had a major impact not only on cotton, but also on all other commodities in the farm bill. “Every commodity has to look at this case and make decisions as to what changes we need to make within the particular titles to meet WTO requirements. WTO is a great organization that has served us well to this point. We must be sure we're WTO-compliant in this next farm bill.”

The American Farmland Trust, taking its cue from Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, held its own farm bill forums in eight U.S. locations, and they report that farmers and ranchers nationally anticipate and may even welcome agricultural policy change.

The participating producers said globalization, federal deficits, World Trade Organization negotiations, and changing consumer demands are creating an environment for change. And, although they expressed considerable anxiety, the farmers hoped change would bring new policies that reduce distortions, expand conservation and help rural communities, enhance food and energy security as well as improve nutrition, according to the Farmland Trust.

Specifically, if reform proceeds, the farmers and ranchers who participated in the forums would like a new farm bill to furnish a better safety net to help all farmers manage risk, reward farmers for providing environmental benefits, nurture entrepreneurship and the development of new markets, help farmers transition and adjust to global market changes, expand support for regional food systems, and shift payments to support such national priorities as energy, nutrition, food security, and rural development.

To realize these goals, the farmers and ranchers recommended such measures as improved crop insurance, block grants for regional flexibility, consolidated conservation programs, expanded Conservation Security Program, revenue-based risk insurance and farmer savings accounts. The American Farmland Trust says the forum results will help the organization and its partners develop a blueprint for farm bill reform that will be released early next year.

Most farmers are resigned to the fact that there will be changes — possibly dramatic ones — in the next farm bill, and they're simply hoping for the best.