The Senate began debating the farm bill last week, but the bill is not expected to be finalized for three weeks or more. According to official estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the bill as currently constructed would save $8.5 billion over five years by ending direct payments and other commodity support programs and implementing the “shallow loss” Agriculture Risk Coverage program.

About $1.8 billion would be saved as a result of changes in conservation programs and another $1.7 billion is saved by changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Changes to the Senate bill are possible since a lot of amendments will be offered. Senate Agriculture Committee leaders hope to have the bill passed by the end of this month.

The House Agriculture Committee is expected to begin working on their version of the farm bill around the middle of the month. Based on recent public statements, the House version will retain target prices and counter-cyclical payments as an option for farmers and will make significantly larger funding cuts to the SNAP.

House ag leaders hope to get their bill through the House during July, setting up a conference committee with the Senate to work out the differences in the two bills. There is more talk about getting the farm bill done before the end of the year and less talk about extending the current bill than there was a month ago.

A federal judge has ordered FDA to reconsider denials of two recent petitions to restrict the use of certain antibiotics in livestock production.

Farm animals consumed 29.1 million pounds of antibiotics in 2010 and some groups fear that widespread use of low doses of antibiotics in animal feed lead to bacteria that are resistant to the drugs. But this is the second time in the last few months that the Food and Drug Administration has lost court battles concerning its refusal to ban the use of some drugs for livestock.

The Court ruled last week that FDA “must evaluate the safety risks of the petitioned drugs and either make a finding that the drugs are not shown to be safe or provide a reasoned explanation as to why the Agency is refusing to make such a finding”.

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has started drafting the bill that will provide funding for the Agriculture Department for fiscal 2013. The appropriations bill is expected to put overall discretionary spending at $19.4 billion, down $500 million from the level approved for fiscal 2012. The Senate’s Agriculture Appropriations bill calls for $20.8 billion in discretionary spending. The House bill is also expected to provide less money for nutrition programs than was the case in the Senate.

The House of Representatives refused to include an amendment to the House Energy and Water Appropriations Bill that would have allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to expand the Clean Water Act enforcement onto private lands not connected to “navigable” waters. The Obama Administration has been trying to expand the definition of the Clean Water Act to include all waters, but the vote in the House blocks that effort.

A survey conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates found that 76 percent of those responding want federal spending for farm subsidies to either stay the same or be increased when the next farm bill is approved.

Fewer than 20 percent want farm subsidies cut. Only 20 percent of respondents believed spending on the SNAP program (food stamps) should be increased. The study was conducted for the National Journal and United Technologies. The survey results are at odds with the push in Congress to cut funding for farm programs by $23 billion or more over the next decade.