ST. LOUIS — Agriculture has a big stake in a number of issues being debated in Washington, D.C., not the least of which is the farm bill.

And Garrett Hawkins has his eye on all of them.

The director of national legislative programs for the Missouri Farm Bureau brought members of the St. Louis AgriBusiness Club up to date on the status of negotiations on the farm bill and other legislation affecting agriculture.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly referred to as food stamps — likely will continue to be the source of a tug of war between congressional Republicans and Democrats.

The sides are not close on suggested cuts to the program. With expenditures of nearly $75 billion, it makes up by far the biggest portion of the farm bill.

“The biggest hurdle is going to be nutrition programs,” Hawkins said. “They are what caused everything to bog down in July, and that will be the sticking point again in conference. How do you negotiate between a $40-billion cut and a $4-billion cut? That really is a sticky wicket.

“The president’s not going to expect something that has a severe cut in SNAP. It will be interesting to see how that conference committee wades through those tough issues.”

Farm leaders also are keeping pressure on Congress to put forward a plan to upgrade the nation’s transportation system, vital for the movement of agricultural commodities as well as inputs such as fertilizer.

“We’re tired of waiting for investments in our infrastructure,” Hawkins said. “With the Panama Canal expansion program to be opened in 2014 and what it means for these larger vessels, we have some work to do with U.S. ports. We continue to talk about the need for locks and dams and other infrastructure for this part of the country.”

While not directly affecting many row-crop farmers, immigration remains a hot-button issue and one Farm Bureau and other ag organizations are tracking.

“It seems the House is still wanting to move on immigration this fall,” Hawkins said. “Some say they’re better off not passing anything. This is a priority for the president. It’s a priority for agriculture, too. It’s not one you hear about a lot in the Midwest.

“It’s one where on the House side we have some work to do. It’s going to be important that agriculture step up to the plate and get something through the House, because if you don’t get something through the House, you’re dead.”

Hawkins still holds out a modicum of optimism on tax reform, though that issue may be overshadowed by much of the crisis mentality reigning in Congress.

“There’s still a chance of an overhaul of our tax code, maybe an end-of-the-year deal,” he said. “We’re trying to stay on top of that.”

One of the most pressing issues, according to Farm Bureau leaders, is what the organization considers overreaching environmental regulations.

The American Farm Bureau Federation developed the “Stop the Flood of Regulation” campaign, a call for farmers to contact their representatives and ask them to prevent further encroachment by the Environmental Protection Agency. It is aimed largely at curbing the reach of the Clean Water Act.

“That’s always on our watch list,” Hawkins said. “There are always attempts to expand permitting requirements on livestock and poultry farms.”