Congress’ failure to enact a new farm bill last year “isn’t all bad,” says Daniel Ulmer, legislative assistant to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., because the extension of the 2008 legislation continues direct and counter-cyclical payments and milk supports.

“The USDA recently announced that signups for the programs will begin Feb. 19,” he said via a video link to the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s annual commodity conference.

“While direct payments are not guaranteed this year, I think this extension makes it very likely. We’re very pleased with this; we feel our producers, lenders, and others in agriculture industry can relax a little bit.”

While there are some budget matters to be addressed in the next several weeks that could potentially affect direct payments, Ulmer says, “I think the USDA will fulfill its obligations.”

Congress is facing several budget/financial-related issues, he says.

“Sequestration, or automatic across-the-board spending reductions, will take place March 1 if Congress doesn’t (1) come up with its own spending reductions or (2) kick the can down the road, which unfortunately it has been done on previous occasions.

“Our goal is to prevent these across-the-board cuts that would affect all programs implemented by the USDA. It’s the position of Sen. Cochran and all agricultural state policy leaders that the House and Senate agriculture committees should develop meaningful farm policy reform and improvements rather than just blindly taking an ax to ag funding.”

Another potential issue in the near future is the debt ceiling debate, Ulmer says. “This basically is the federal government’s credit limit. Often, when the government reaches that limit, they have to raise the cap or default on the nation’s financial obligations.