October now appears to be the next target date for completion of a five-year farm bill, a process that has undergone numerous gyrations, false starts and sudden stops for the past 18 months.

But obstacles, some of them substantial, remain before a bill ever gets to President Obama’s desk.

Nutrition, says House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, will be a factor when the House and Senate conference committee meets, likely not before early October. But a large obstacle, Syria, stands in the way before getting to a conference that many had hoped would begin shortly after the August recess.

“The biggest challenge is persuading colleagues in the House and Senate just how important production agriculture is. We not only provide food for this country but to the people of the world.” (See http://deltafarmpress.com/blog/if-farm-bill-doesn-t-address-hunger-what-s-it.)

But Lucas, speaking at the Second Annual Southwest Ag Issues Summit in Oklahoma City today, is, if not totally optimistic, at least hopeful of getting a farm bill passed this fall.

“We have a vehicle that is conferenceable,” he said. That vehicle includes a Senate version that will trim significantly less money from the ag budget than does the House bill and a House version that does not include a nutrition title.

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He said leaders in the House want to vote on a $40 billion nutrition reform bill before going to conference committee. “When we get that done, or not, we can appoint conferees and go to committee to work out differences. Whether that’s with a $40 billion reform or the $23 billion or $24 billion from the Senate, we have to wait and see.”

Other challenges include budget concerns and the details included in each bill that affect the level of protection afforded commodities.

“We have included 11 of the 12 titles,” in the House bill, Lucas said. Some legislators and some outside interests have pushed to get a nutrition bill completed before going to conference. Another option is to pass a “farm bill only farm bill” with no change to nutrition programs.

“We have to preserve the resource,” Lucas said. “We have to save the core funding for crop insurance and this is a fight we will have to have every year in appropriations bills, even with a five-year farm bill.”