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Farm Bill Hot, But Focus Switches to Energy

by 5m Editor
26 November 2007, at 11:46am

US - Democrats hope Republican senators will get an earful from farmers about the Senate's gridlocked farm bill. Democrats would probably prefer that farmers not notice the stalled energy bill.

But that energy bill could have a bigger impact on the agricultural economy. Prices for corn, soybeans and even wheat and cotton have risen sharply since Congress passed the last energy bill in 2005, which set the first mandate for ethanol usage.

The demand for corn to make ethanol drove up corn prices to the highest levels in a decade. And that, in turn, led farmers to plant more corn this year and less wheat, soybeans and cotton, helping to push up prices for all three of those commodities. Net farm income is expected to top $87 billion this year, a 48 percent increase from 2006.

Farmers and ethanol and biodiesel producers worry the good times won't continue unless Congress acts soon to raise the mandate and guarantee a growing demand for both products.

"Obviously, people do know that the ethanol and biodiesel market has done a lot for commodity programs. There is a bigger threat that we're not going to finish the energy bill than there is the farm bill," said Mary Kay Thatcher, a lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Congress has no choice but to do something about the farm bill - the old one has expired - but that's not the case on energy. There's no deadline to enact new energy legislation. In a presidential election year, with all the politicking that entails, it's tough to pass anything as far-reaching as a new energy bill.

"If they don't get something relatively soon it's going to be very difficult," said Frank Maisano, a lobbyist for various energy interests.

The Senate and House passed differing versions of the energy bill this summer, but Democratic leaders have been unable so far to come up with a compromise between the two. Democrats are divided among themselves about what the legislation should include.

Source: DesMoinesRegister

5m Editor