Potential for a more farmer-friendly farm bill and a workable immigration policy may be improved with a leadership change in the U.S. House of Representatives and possibly in the Senate (One Senate race still is undecided at press time.).
“I think the prospects of the farm bill debate moving forward are a little better,” says Jose Pena, Texas Professor and Extension economist-management at Uvalde.
The biggest challenge, he says, remains creating a farm program that complies with World Trade Organization obligations while maintaining an adequate risk management program for U.S. farmers.
“We've been hung up on that and the Brazil challenge,” he says.
He says Democrats may be a bit more reluctant to agree on trade negotiations. “But changes are likely to be small. I think Congress will come up with solutions.”
The Federal budget also will limit what Congress can put in a new farm bill, Pena says. The cost of the War in Iraq has taken a lot of money and Congress will be dealing with a budget deficit instead of a surplus when they craft a new law.
Pena says recent up ticks in corn prices, however, will reduce program outlays.
“Our next farm program will probably not be as farmer-friendly as the 2001 bill,” he says.
He says immigration reform may move away from the impasse that's stymied progress for months.“I think President Bush preferred the Senate version of immigration reform (That bill was more open to a guest worker program and less intent on an enforcement only policy.)”
Pena says agriculture needs a provision to allow day workers and says the new leadership may be open to that idea.
“Day worker provisions provide a means of bringing in workers to fill the needs of employers,” he says. “It's limited and not wide open amnesty.”
A current guest worker program, H2A, is expensive and sometimes difficult for employers, he says. “President Bush and Congress are probably closer together now on immigration reform than they were. We need a legal way to provide a needed source of labor.”