While a new farm bill already is being painted with broad strokes, one expert cautions that all of this will likely be modified by two factors over the next few months — the looming federal budget deficit and the upcoming federal election.

For now, members of a Senate agricultural panel have fleshed out the broad contours of a new bill, though a host of questions remain.

Among these: The future of commodity programs and, more specifically, how to integrate these with conservation programs, especially in these lean fiscal times.

Statements by Collin Peterson, ranking Democratic member of the GOP-controlled House agricultural committee, indicate that lawmakers may end up considering three commodity program options, according to Jim Novak, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System economist and Auburn University professor of agricultural economics.

“Peterson stated this recently, and it seems to have been backed up by other members of his committee,” Novak says.

For now, Novak says it also appears that upland cotton may have its own program, which will be dubbed STAX, an acronym for Stacked Income Protection Plan.

“The program would serve as a revenue insurance-type program,” he says.  “It will likely complement current crop insurance, though we’re unsure at this point how much coverage it will provide.

“What is being discussed is a range of between 5 and 30 percent on top of current crop insurance coverage,” he says.

The STAX proposal for cotton reflects the lawmakers’ pervasive concerns about the Brazilian-led World Trade Organization suit and is currently envisioned as a replacement for current program payments. “Whether counter-cyclical payments for cotton will be carried over into the next farm bill as an option seems very unlikely but remains an open question,” Novak says.