The track record of Congress in neglecting its basic duties is remarkable. Lawmakers’ most glaring irresponsibility is of course the failure to pass an actual budget, let alone any type of serious, long-term fiscal agreement.

Among the most frustrating failures of Congress is the continuing inability to agree on a farm bill. This week there’s a smidgen of hope. A group of four key members of Congress — leaders on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees — are meeting on the issue and signaling that they’re determined to hash out a final resolution.

A report in the National Journal said that at a larger congressional meeting on the farm bill, more than 40 lawmakers defended their parochial ag interests but also indicated they’re willing, given the repeated failures on this issue, to seek reasonable compromise.

Not so encouraging was the comment from House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., about who will be expected to find a solution to the never-ending bickering and posturing over how much to cut from the food stamp budget. That duty, Peterson said, will fall to President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — three leaders who have shown repeatedly that they seem able to do little more than kick the budget can down the road.

Members of Congress are sent to Washington to see to the interests of our nation as a whole, and it’s crucial that America’s ag sector has the predictability to plan for the future. Even lawmakers from predominantly urban districts ought to recognize that fact.

Agriculture not only puts the food on our nation’s tables. It’s important, too, for our export economy. In 2011, America exported $136 billion in farm and ranch products, giving our country a trade surplus of $37 billion for the ag sector. One in three U.S. farm acres is planted for export.

In 2010, government farm payments to Nebraska producers totaled $509 million. That was about one-eighth of total net farm income in the state, according to a report on Nebraska’s economy prepared for the Legislature’s Planning Committee.

Over the years, the amount of government farm payments going to Nebraska’s ag sector (primarily to crop producers) has varied widely year to year.

In 1994, such assistance totaled around $380 million. By 1998, the amount rose to $1.4 billion. It soon fell and by 2002 totaled $580 million. As mentioned, total aid for 2010 was $509 million.

Nebraska had 46,800 farms and ranches during 2011 with an average size of 972 acres. Iowa that year had 92,300 farms averaging 333 acres.

In addition to the food stamp issue, it appears that a key disagreement in Washington is pitting calls from Midwestern lawmakers for payments to cover “shallow losses” not covered by crop insurance against calls from Southern representatives seeking higher target prices.

So, lawmakers and lobbyists have a choice to make: They can stick to their guns and prolong this stalemate, or they can do the right thing and work out sensible compromise on final legislation.

No one should minimize the difficulty in working out such technical issues, but the right answer is obvious. The nation needs a farm bill. It’s time for Congress to deliver.

— Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald