April 18 is the deadline for Congress to consider a new farm bill or accept the 2002 Farm Bill extension that President Bush signed nearly a month ago.
 
Thursday (April 10) was this first time that the conference committee sat down to try to iron out the large discrepancies that still exist between the House and Senate versions. Even if that is accomplished, the compromised bill has to receive the House and Senate's blessing and then head to the White House for the President's signature. President Bush has made it crystal clear what he will and won't accept in a final bill.

As chairman of the Senate/House Conference Committee, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), is committed to work hard to beat the April 18 deadline. "These differences can be resolved and reconciled, and in fact many of them already have been in the hundreds of hours of informal staff discussions over the past weeks," Harkin says.

The bill is currently about $10 billion over budget. How those cost overruns would be paid for and the extent to which farm income should be subsidized are the issues bogging down negotiations. They also are the areas that the President is watching closely.

Of note to the pork industry is that the Senate's version still includes a provision to restrict packer livestock ownership. Also, both the House and Senate versions include mandated country-of-origin labeling.