(Jan. 25, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) As the nomination hearing began for Agriculture Secretary designate North Dakota Gov. Edward Schafer on Jan. 24, expectations were that the Schafer would be approved by the full Senate in short order.

However, there was no such confidence about how quickly House and Senate conference members could deliver an acceptable farm bill to President Bush.

John Keeling, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Potato Council, said conferees had not been officially named as of Jan. 24, though meetings between House and Senate staffers have been ongoing.

Both House and Senate leaders were still debating finance measures that would fund the farm bill.

“We keep sending the message that Congress needs to get it done and need to get it done now,” Keeling said.

Keeling said Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner would remain with the U.S. Department of Agriculture after Schafer is confirmed.

“Chuck will continue to be the farm bill guy, and you hope Chuck will stay through the whole term because he is the guy that knows how the deal is done,” he said.