“While spending cuts aren’t directly tied to raising the debt limit, this often is a political strategy by whichever party is pushing it. More recently, it has been the Obama administration seeking to increase the limit.”

Congress also has to pass several appropriations bills in the coming months, he says.

“We’re going to be closely monitoring all these budget matters to see if any proposals materialize that reduce ag funding. Right now, there’s nothing specific, but it’s possible something could be introduced.

“The outcome of the budget debate will directly affect the next farm bill. The nation’s financial condition necessitates reform and reductions in government spending, and the funding amounts we’ve had for ag programs in previous years won’t be there. So, we can expect that some programs will be eliminated or altered to achieve savings.”

Sen. Cochran’s recently being named ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee “is positive,” Ulmer says, and “will give him a much stronger voice in representing southern agriculture interests as he works with Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in crafting the new farm bill.”

Probably “the most important, and most complicated issue is what the farm safety net will look like in the future,” he says. “Our country’s serious financial condition, mixed with the current political environment, suggests there will be changes to programs in the 2008 farm bill.”

Direct payments, in particular, “have been put in the crosshairs by members of Congress and the president,” Ulmer says.

“We understand how important these payments are to Mississippi producers, and Sen. Cochran’s goal is to seek the best possible way to develop a strong, robust safety net proposal that can receive enough votes to pass in the Senate and House.”

While he says Cochran “hasn’t gone into detail yet about what he wants to change in the farm bill passed by the Senate last year, I think we can expect he will continue to oppose its regional inequities and its one-size-fits-all approach in the commodity title.

“It would eliminate everything in Title 1 except a new program called ARC, Average Revenue Coverage. Based on economic projections, this coverage model looks very good for certain crops and not so good for others. The senator has great concern about its potential impact on Mississippi producers who grow a lot of different crops.