(Dec. 10) If the next farm bill will be better for the produce industry, it may have to be better later than never.

There won’t be a new farm bill signed by President Bush until at least the first quarter of 2008, political observers and agricultural lobbyists reported Dec. 6.

While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scheduled a Dec. 7 vote on the farm bill put forward by the Senate Agriculture Committee, that vote was expected to fail, said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

A second failed cloture vote — the first occurred in mid-November — would continue the dispute between Republicans and Democrats on how to proceed with Senate’s version of the farm bill.

Guenther said another cloture vote — or alternatively, a unanimous consent agreement on the number of amendments to be offered — is likely the week of Dec. 10.

More than 300 amendments to the farm bill have been proposed, and Reid has reportedly made an offer to limit amendments to 10 for Republicans and five for Democrats. However, no agreement was reached between party leaders as of Dec. 6, Guenther said.

“We are up on the hill, talking with key senators to get them to support (moving ahead with the debate) and get the amendment agreement done,” Guenther said.

Conservation, nutrition and specialty crop industry lobbyists are working together to get the Senate to move, he added.

There is some talk that Congress would wrap up its business by Dec. 15, in which case Guenther said it was unlikely the Senate farm bill debate could conclude before the end of the year. However, if Congress continues work the week of Dec. 17, the Senate might be able to finish its work. Even so, a conference committee of House and Senate members must convene to harmonize the farm bill passed earlier in the year by the House, and that work won’t be done under any circumstances by the end of the year, observers said.

Guenther said each passing day makes completing work on the farm bill harder to accomplish, but he said there is a window of opportu-nity to pass a new bill through February.

Another Washington, D.C., lob-byist, speaking on anonimity, said that despite the delay, specialty crop interests would be accounted for when the farm bill is done.