A $6-billion error has put the Senate-passed Farm Bill $6.1 billion over the spending limit set by a congressional budget agreement. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-Texas) says, the mistake strengthens his position in talks with the Senate on a compromise bill.

Under the budget agreement, lawmakers are not supposed to increase government farm spending by more than $73.5 billion over the next 10 years. Prior to the error's discovery, that was the estimated cost for the Senate bill. The House/Senate conference committee that's trying to reconcile the Farm Bill faces many issues, including a Senate-passed ban packer livestock ownership, a new $2-billion dairy subsidy, a limit on farm subsidies and increased conservation and nutrition program spending. Trade issues also are causing problems.

More than 30 corporations and business groups told House and Senate Farm Bill conferees in mid-March to oppose any bill banning packer livestock ownership, as well as legislation allowing agribusiness contractors to ignore arbitration in resolution. The group consisted of the American Meat Institute and most national meat packers and processors.

Farm groups were pushing for Congress to adopt a final version of the Farm Bill by late March. But with all of the hot issues, a decision isn't likely until sometime after Congress returns from its April 8 Easter break. Some even speculate the final version won't be drafted until the fall.