While it’s possible that the U.S. House and Senate have reached a compromise on the 2007 Farm Bill by the time you read this, I’m betting that’s not going to happen. There is too much turf to protect for progress to pick up steam that quickly. (The betting line is that a House/Senate compromise bill isn’t likely to surface until closer to Christmas.)

No question that there has been plenty on Washington lawmakers’ plates to keep the farm bill at arm’s length priority-wise. The Senate in particular was slow to engage in farm bill discussions. Several senators were putting pen to their own farm bill versions, and there was a battle between the Senate Ag Committee and the Senate Finance and Budget Committees about who really gets to create the 2007 Farm Bill. (Seriously folks, there’s plenty to go around.)

Ag Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) rallied the troops in late October, getting his committee to draft a plan. “The Senate floor (debate and vote) may still be bloody,” notes a Washington insider.

Of course, once the Senate finalizes its bill, the real slowdown (or showdown may be more accurate) will come as the House and Senate conference committee works on a compromise bill. The two houses have very different priorities and proposals. “This needs to be a better bill; it needs to have more reform in it,” says USDA’s Acting Secretary Chuck Conner.

Some points of interest to your business in the Senate committee’s markup include: 

  • Implement the Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling law.
  • Fund conservation program, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
  • Authorize a national trichinae certification program. 
  • Fund swine genome research, and authorize “Regional Centers of Excellence” for ag research efforts. 
  • Prohibit arbitration clauses in contracts between packers and producers.
  • Establish an Office of Special Counsel for livestock competition issues.
  • Ban packer ownership of livestock for more than 14 days prior to slaughter. (This could have serious consequences for marketing contracts.)

As if that wasn’t enough, the Senate Ag Appropriations Bill also lingered in the halls of Capitol Hill. Again, that bill may be finalized by the time you read this, but the Senate has an extension, good until Nov. 16, to address agriculture spending allocations that ended back on Sept. 30.

The Ag Appropriations Bill funds USDA and Food and Drug Administration programs, and has been the target of some disturbing provisions for your business. Among the proposals:

  • A ban on the use of certain antibiotics in livestock.
  • Prohibit fatigued hogs from entering the food supply.
  • Prevent the federal government from purchasing meat from farms that use gestation-sow stalls.

The House version, which was finalized back on Aug. 1, did not include any of those provisions. The House bill includes some very constructive points for your business:

  • $117.9 million for animal health monitoring and surveillance.
  • $2.5 million for pseudorabies in pest and disease management.
  • $807,000 for livestock genome sequencing efforts.
  • $263,000 for livestock waste issues.
  • $484,000 for swine and other animal waste management issues.

Regardless of what the Senate Ag Appropriations Bill outlines, it will still have to be reconciled in the conference committee. So there’s still hope that wiser heads will prevail. Of course, you could play a role in both the final appropriations bill and the farm bill by contacting your congressmen and telling them what you expect from their work. (You can contact your lawmakers by calling the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.)

Still, the real take-home message here is that there is plenty of politics yet to unfold. Whether it involves the farm bill, agriculture spending, food safety or any number of topics, there is legislation pending or being drafted that impacts your business. Most troubling are the three outlined for the agriculture spending bill. You can see the activists’ fingerprints all over those issues, with the increasingly effective Humane Society of the United States out front.

Like a bad penny, if those three provisions don’t pass this time, they will be back. Take a quick jaunt around some of the activists’ Web sites, and you get a clear perspective of the “victories” they’ve claimed and what they have planned for the future.

So, what are your plans? What have you done to voice your concern or educate your lawmakers during this important political season or the one approaching in 2008? The same question applies to local and state lawmakers. But it also applies to your efforts within your neighborhood or community.

A young Tennessee pork producer told me recently, “Pork people are going to have to become politicians, because the average consumer doesn’t know what we do.”

While there is plenty of time for politics, there’s no time for you to waste in speaking up on behalf of your business.