(Feb. 29, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) House and Senate negotiators were still not close on Feb. 29 to agreeing to a final budget number for the farm bill, and more important, how the bill is to be funded.

A Republican staffer for the House Committee on Agriculture, speaking on background, said a breakthrough in the talks did not seem to be imminent.

“They continue to be meet and discussion, but they are not close yet,” he said. “We’ve been waiting all week.”

Discussions include House Agriculture Chairman Colin Peterson, D-Minn.; Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., could be a key player in the process, particularly if the White House balks at supporting a farm bill that is $9 billion to $10 billion over the baseline.

If Goodlatte stays with the deal that is expected to be negotiated between the House and Senate leaders, he could peel off enough Republicans in the House to make the new farm bill veto-proof.

Still, Guenther said a short-term extension in the farm bill — beyond the March 15 expiration date — is becoming more probable.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Feb. 29 issued a report providing detailed analysis of what would happen in the absence of enactment of a new farm bill or an extension of the 2002 farm bill beyond March 15.

As stated in the USDA analysis, the provisions of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 and the Agricultural Act of 1949, which have been repeatedly suspended by several farm bills, would again become legally effective if no new farm bill is passed or the 2002 farm bill is extended, the report said.

The paper said a reversion to the 1949 law would “dramatically narrow the universe of producers who receive support, and would do so in a way that most producers will view as irrational,” the paper said.