Following last Thursday's announcement that the House/Senate farm bill conference committee wanted yet another week to work on a new farm bill, negotiators reported on Friday that they reached agreement on the fundamental tenets of a new five-year bill.

The White House has agreed to give the committee a third extension, putting the deadline at May 2 to pull together final legislation.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in a statement that committee negotiators have agreed to a core farm bill that exceeds budget baseline by $10 billion. But more important to the final passage is that they agreed to drop new tax proposals that President Bush has indicated would lead to a veto. Committee negotiators reportedly are now considering other ways, including user-fees, to fund the $10 billion overrun.

While these are signs of progress, funding details do still need to be ironed out. From there, the full House/Senate conference committee must approve the bill's details.

Harkin said the new farm bill will invest heavily in renewable energy and will help bring the promise of cellulosic biofuels to reality by providing grants and loans to move from corn ethanol to other renewable feedstocks.