Collapse of WTO negotiations earlier this week adds a sense of urgency to farm bill debates and a renewed effort from farm organizations to extend the current farm law for at least one year.

Suspension of the Doha round of trade talks emphasizes the need to extend farm legislation, says Kenneth Dierschke, Texas Farm Bureau president. “If we change farm legislation now, we face serious disadvantages in international trade,” Dierschke said during a media tele-conference yesterday.

“Until the deadlock is broken that would lead to a successful conclusion of WTO negotiations, Texas Farm Bureau is encouraging Texas members of the House Agriculture Committee and leaders of both parties to work toward extension of our current farm law,” Dierschke said. “The European Union and others have not acted in good faith. Extending our current Farm Bill will demonstrate that we are serious about market access.

“With minor adjustments to comply with recent WTO rulings, such a bill would give U.S. farmers a firm footing in dealing with unfair trade practices in world markets.”

Dierschke said Congress may need to change farm legislation when WTO negotiations are finalized, but until then America’s farmers need the stability of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

“The Texas Farm Bureau encourages the U.S. Congress to extend that law,” he said.

Steve Pringle, Texas Farm Bureau legislative director, said wholesale changes in the current farm program would “limit our ability to negotiate trade issues later.”

Dierschke said a proposal by Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the Senate agriculture committee, to extend the current law for more than one year, possibly as much as five, makes sense as well.

“We have no problem with extending the law for five years,” he said, “but we need at least one year.”

Texas Farm Bureau officials said they have no sense from Washington contacts that anyone seeks to make wholesale changes in current commodity provisions of the farm law.

Chambliss also said the current program might be tweaked. “One possibility could be to remove planting restrictions for fruit and vegetables on cotton acreage,” Pringle said.

Texas Congressman Mac Thornberry has sponsored a bill to extend current farm legislation. “We hope to gain more co-sponsors,” Pringle said. “We expect to see more support now that WTO negotiations have collapsed.”

They still expect challenges. The mood for farm legislation has altered significantly since the 2002 law was enacted. Instead of a budget surplus, the country now faces long-term deficits. And, though both Houses of Congress have capable leadership on the agriculture committees, they lack the bi-partisan effort that Texas Congressmen Larry Combest and Charlie Stenholm provided in 2002.

The Texas Farm Bureau also supports extending Trade Promotion Authority beyond the 2007 deadline. “We will see a real struggle to extend that authority,” Pringle said. “Something of a backlash to trade exists now. And votes on trade authority are always close, regardless of which party is in the White House.

“It’s easy to argue against trade promotion authority but it is essential for the administration to have it.”

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com