USDA and the Bush administration are calling on Congress to push U.S. farm policy in a new direction. A report released last Thursday by Agricultural Secretary Ann Veneman, outlines a shift toward adopting new policies directed at such things as conservation, trade issues, food safety and agricultural research, without depending on long-term support from government subsidies.

The report, “Food and Agricultural Policy: Taking Stock for the New Century,” states that new farm programs should be tailored to reflect the differences in production costs, marketing, management and overall business goals.

Although President Bush approved the proposal, it’s unlikely to become policy any time soon. Congress has their hands full with national security and other budget issues to overhaul the 1996 Freedom to Farm bill, which expires next year.

Even with these national security issues, farm groups think that Congressional leaders should include an overhaul of U.S. farm law along with national security and economic stimulus bills on their list of must-do legislation.

At a mid-morning briefing, House Agriculture Committee staff workers told about 50 farm group officials there was no sure date for action on the bill. They encouraged farm groups to build grassroots support to prompt a vote on it.

About three dozen groups were expected to sign a letter to House leaders and members of the Agriculture Committee arguing that "a new agriculture policy is necessary for America's farmers and ranchers."

Even if the House acts, analysts say it was unlikely Congress would overhaul farm law this year. The Senate has not begun writing its farm bill.

Reuters, USDA