House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) plans to have a new farm bill through the House, House-Senate conference committee, and on President Bush's desk before the 2002 law expires Sept. 30. In remarks to the American Farm Bureau Federation this week, Peterson said he expects the new farm legislation to look "a lot like we have now" with some changes such as a permanent disaster assistance provision.

Peterson said he also believes Congress will pass disaster legislation that will cover crop losses in 2005 and 2006. He expects the House to pass a $3-billion disaster bill among the first items after the body completes its "first 100 hours" priorities.

Peterson also said he expects renewable fuels "to drive this farm bill," and he would like to see 50% of the fuel in America be renewable fuel, but not just from corn.

"We've got to do cellulosic, too," he said. "The issue will become: How do we produce the necessary feedstocks?"

More research is needed to figure out what grows best in different parts of the country, and until enough cellulosic ethanol plants are built to provide an adequate market for switchgrass, straw and other feedstocks, the farm bill might be changed to include a program that pays farmers to produce those crops, he said. "The country needs to start growing them now."

Peterson said he intends to get the bill out of the House before the August recess, while Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, intends to do the same. Then Congress could work out a conference agreement over the August break, finish the tough issues in the early part of September and get the bill on the president's desk for signing by the end of that month.
-- Forrest Laws, Farm Press