A House-Senate conference committee are making headway on the Farm Bill, but there’s still a lot of controversial issues ahead.

Under the deal reached last week, subsidies for grain, cotton and other crops would increase by 70 percent. Spending on conservation programs that subsidize improvements in farm practices and idle environmentally sensitive land would go up by 80 percent.

Leaders of the committee issued a statement saying their agreement provides the ``needed framework to speed negotiations for early April completion' of a compromise farm bill.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman says Congress is fast running out of time to enact new programs that could take effect with this year's crops.

Lawmakers still must agree on how the money will be spent as well as resolve major differences between the House and Senate on farm policy.

Last week’s agreement represents a compromise between spending levels contained in bills passed last fall by the House and in February by the Senate. Last year's congressional budget plan allowed lawmakers to increase spending for agriculture, conservation and nutrition programs by $73.5 billion over the coming decade.

This agreement allows commodity subsidies to rise by $48.6 billion over the 10-year period, or nearly $5 billion annually, a 70 percent increase over existing programs. Money is included to set up a new subsidy program for dairy farms.

Conservation spending would rise by $17.1 billion over the decade. Environmentalists immediately attacked that number as inadequate. A Senate-passed farm bill would have boosted conservation spending by $21.3 billion. A House bill included a $15.8 billion increase.

There is additional money earmarked in the agreement for rural development, trade and agricultural research.

The issues still confronting the negotiators include subsidy levels for crops, a Senate-passed ban on meatpacker ownership of cattle and hogs and a Senate-approved limit on the subsidies that individual farms can receive.

Associated Press