(April 19) With time running out on producing a farm bill that would apply to 2002, House-Senate conference negotiations on the bill were making progress late the week of April 14-20.

House conference members proposed a compromise measure April 18 that Senate conferees were expected to counter.

Some held out hope that the farm bill would be wrapped up by the week of April 21, but much work needed to be done.

The House proposal requires Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman to issue rules for voluntary country-of-origin labeling by Sept. 30. The program would become mandatory Jan. 1, 2005, unless the secretary determines that it would not be in the best interests of producers and consumers. The criteria for the secretary’s call was prescribed to be the potential costs vs. benefit for producers and the impact on international markets.

The House proposal would take the slow road in ramping up spending on the Market Access Program, increasing funding to $200 million by fiscal year 2006.

It also provides less money for specialty crop purchases than the Senate version.

A House agriculture committee spokesman said one glitch in the Senate version of the bill is $2.4 billion in emergency disaster payments, mainly devoted to livestock but including $100 million to apple growers. Because the Senate bill is $6 billion over budget anyway because of a budget office error, he said the disaster aid is under pressure from House members.