Despite predictions by some that a new farm bill would be in place by Thanksgiving, that wasn't the case.
Instead, Congress left town for their Christmas break with the House-Senate Conference Committee still deadlocked over a few sticking points, with the food stamp issue being the biggest roadblock to an agreement.
The conference committee members have become tight-lipped concerning where the negotiations now stand. Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) stressed that leaders working on a compromise want to present a framework for the bill to all the members of the conference committee before making the details public.
Some inside sources have indicated the tug-of-war over nutrition funding is likely to end up around the $8 billion mark over the next 10 years. In previously passed bills, the Senate was seeking cuts of around $4.5 billion and the House-passed version of the farm bill sought $40 billion in reductions over the next 10 years.
In an interview with Politico before the Christmas break, House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said the farm bill talks were moving into the final stretch.
"We are moving right down the path" toward a House-Senate conference report in January, Lucas said.
This was echoed by Stabenow, who said, "I'm very optimistic we're closing in. There's no question in my mind that we'll be able to come together and have a farm bill that we can take action on in January. We've gotten (Congressional Budget Office-CBO) scores back that look very good, very workable. It puts us in good shape."
A recent controversy on the extent of the Conservation Reserve Program in the new farm legislation now appears to have been settled with a 24-million acre target for enrollment.
Additionally, it appears that Stabenow will likely get what she has been seeking in terms of attaching new conservation compliance rules to crop insurance, which has become a priority for wildlife and environmental groups. The House version of the farm legislation didn't contain the linkage of enrolling in conservation programs to the ability to purchase crop insurance.
Last month, while addressing a large group of sugarbeet growers in Fargo, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said the inclusion of the sugar program in the new farm bill is critical, and as a member of the conference committee he is doing everything he can to have a sugar provision in the new bill.
He noted the importance of reauthorizing the sugar program was made clear this past year when the U.S. market was flooded with surplus sugar from Mexico, which has free access to the U.S. sugar market under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Mexican sugar exports to the U.S. approached 20 percent of the total U.S. sugar demand.
"Our industry can compete with anyone, anywhere when the terms are fair," Hoven said. "The sugar program levels the playing field with subsidized foreign producers and benefits not only our industry, but also consumers."
Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) also expressed confidence a new farm bill will be passed by the end of January.
"We've got a basic framework on the farm bill," said Noem. "We've definitely made progress, and I anticipate that we'll be able to dot our I's and cross our T's and get it put into law by the end of January."
Finally, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he is keeping a close eye on the farm bill talks and had indicated he had no plans to accelerate implementation of the 1949 permanent law as long as there are sign a deal is within reach. However if the talks become prolonged, that is a different story.
"If it (the negotiation process) lingers into February, into March or beyond, then at some point in time in that time frame you are going to be confronted with the 1949 law or the need for a farm bill extension," said Vilsack.