It's anybody's guess.” That's how Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., characterizes the Senate's efforts to birth a new farm bill, while preoccupied with terrorism-related events and a stubbornness about considering any legislation until a large slate of new federal judges is confirmed.

“I don't think anyone can make any predictions with any certainty as to how this is going to come out,” he told members of the Southern Crop Production Association at their annual meeting in New Orleans.

“I think we can conclude that this administration is going to try and define, in a more structured and predictable way than we've seen in the past, the allocations that can be expected for farm programs over the next five years.”

Cochran, who is the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Agriculture, said there have been “some strong signals” from the Bush Administration as to what a new farm bill should and shouldn't do, but given the tenor of the Senate, it's not even certain that body will complete one this year.”

In which case, the current Freedom to Farm legislation would remain operable until a new law is passed next year or until it finally expires in September, 2002.

Looking at “the realities of politics,” Cochran said, “and the differences of opinion that are strongly held, that are based on individual views of the role of government and the responsibilities to the taxpayers across a wide range of interests, there is no consensus on what the new farm bill should be.

“So, we have to stay tuned in to what's going on and continue to express our views as to what shape the new legislation ought to be.”