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Coleman asks for patience as Congress adds final touches to farm bill

To those who are waiting to find out what the next Farm Bill will look like, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman offers this advice: "Hang on. In a week we'll have all this sorted out."

The current law expires today, but the negotiators working on a new five-year, $280 billion farm program have not reached final agreement.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents Minnesota's Seventh District including west central Minnesota, is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and is a lead negotiator on the bill.

He could not be reached Thursday afternoon.

The House of Representatives passed a one-week extension of the current law on Wednesday. The Senate followed suit on Thursday, Coleman said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, and he believes that the White House will not follow through on a threatened veto of the extension.

The good news is that a lot of issues that were stumbling blocks in the past, such as increases in nutrition programs and more investment in conservation programs, have been settled, Coleman said.

The hang-up now is in how to fund the bill and in tax breaks that the Senate wants to offer but the House does not.

Another sticking point is a permanent disaster relief fund for farmers affected by natural disasters. The Senate included disaster relief, but the House did not.

"These are not partisan differences," Coleman said. Regional differences are evident, and some disagreement between different areas of agriculture or between rural and urban members.

Some of the tax breaks in the Senate version of the bill include accelerated depreciation on farm equipment and a biodiesel tax credit, Coleman said.

Coleman said Peterson will have a more difficult time trying to negotiate the tax issues with a finance chair from an urban area. In the Senate, the agriculture committee is working with finance chairs who represent states with significant farm economies.

"In the end, I think we're going to find common ground," he said. "The safety net is still there."

Things important to Minnesota farmers, such as the Milk Income Loss Compensation program, will still be in place, he said.

Less certain, and very important to Coleman, is the future of funding for rural development efforts, including the Rural Renaissance Act he has worked on for several years.

"I'm still pushing on those things," he said. His Rural Renaissance proposal would help communities make infrastructure improvements needed for development.

Coleman said he has a few proposals that he expects to be part of the final bill. They include local ownership provisions for biofuels and program for grain storage loans.