U.S. Representative Randy Neugebauer thinks Congress will meet the April 18 deadline to pass a 2008 farm bill but he also says it's time to begin thinking beyond the current debate and consider other issues facing U.S. farmers.

“We need trade agreements that are fair and equitable,” Neugebauer told participants at the recent Plains Cotton Growers Inc., annual meeting in Lubbock.

“We also need a better energy policy,” he said. “For farmers, all their input costs are up this year, especially energy. We need to expand our energy supply, not just switch from one source to another.”

Neugebauer said a good energy program should include all energy sources. “Nuclear, electricity, oil, coal and wind should be options,” he said. “We must become much less dependent on foreign energy.”

He said farmers and the country need continued agricultural research. “That has been important to agriculture.”

He said the current stalemate on passing a comprehensive farm bill hinges on funding options. “Congress has agreed to $10 billion (for commodity programs),” he said. ‘But we're trying to allocate that money to cover about $25 billion in requests.”

He said although the 2002 program has been extended twice it did not extend commodity programs. “Farmers in south Texas have planted crops with basically no farm bill in place,” he said. “That's not good policy and that's not good for America.”

Another factor in the farm bill delay is the number of participants. “We have more players involved. That makes this a complex process. Ways and Means wants more money in nutrition, but this is already a nutrition bill. A very small percentage of the bill has to do with production agriculture.”

He said the pay-go (spending must be paid for before authorized) is causing “a lot of arguments. Some tax preferences may be jeopardizing the possibility of getting a bill.”

He said some proposals would take money out of crop insurance. “I'm concerned about that possibility. I have been a strong proponent for stronger crop insurance programs. I wanted to put more money into insurance.”

He said if Congress moves closer to April 18 and negotiations are ongoing they may consider extending the 2002 program. “But if they extend the law I don't know if the extension will be exactly like the 2002 program. I still think our best option is to pass a 5-year farm bill. A 10-year bill has been talked about, but I don't think that will happen. Right now, a 5-year bill will be good.”