Emerson behind payment limit relief

Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., and her counterpart in northeast Arkansas, Rep. Marion Berry, have introduced two bills that would insure that farmers are able to make full use of the marketing loan for their program crops.

The first, H.R. 4894, would raise the payment limitation from $75,000 to $150,000 for loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains for the 2000 crop year. The second, H.R. 4895, would extend the increase for the remaining two years of the 1996 Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act.

While Congress is expected to be in session only a short time before adjourning in October, Rep. Emerson said she is hopeful that both bills can be attached to the fiscal 2001 agricultural appropriations bill conference report.

"When we did this for the 1999 crops last year, we were able to make it retroactive for farmers who had already sold their crops," said Emerson, whose district includes the Missouri Bootheel.

"We're not sure what date we will be finishing this session," she noted. "Some of us are beginning to believe the planned Oct. 7 or 8 date for adjournment may be too ambitious. If we can add the legislation to the ag appropriations conference report, it will be much cleaner and much faster than if we tried to pass the legislation by itself."

She said several of her colleagues have said payment limits is the one issue they've heard about more than any other during the August recess.

"During the last three weeks, I have spoken to 26 to 27 groups - the last one attended by more than 100 farmers - in my district," she said. "That subject came up more than any other."

While the loan deficiency or producer option payment for cotton is not expected to be as large as it was last year, corn and soybean farmers could be severely impacted by a $75,000 payment limit.

"Take today, for example," she said. "The loan rate for soybeans is $5.41 per bushel. The price at the closest local elevator to Cape Girardeau, Mo., is $4.82. That would mean a loan deficiency payment of 59 cents per bushel.

"There is some talk that prices at harvest time could be as low as $4.20 and $4.30 per bushel, resulting in a payment of $1.11 to $1.21 per bushel. That is definitely a reason we need to raise it.

"Even our small to medium-sized producers are in great fear of bumping up against the payment limit," she said. "It's very easy for farmers with 1,000 acres of cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat to bump against it, and few people would consider that to be a large farm these days."

In a letter to her colleagues urging them to support the legislation, Rep. Emerson said medium-sized family farmers could be prevented from accessing key elements of the farm program under the current limitations.

"There is no tougher business to be in right now than farming," she wrote. "Farmers have endured three consecutive years of low commodity prices, yet the farm economy seems poised to deteriorate even further. America's farm program should respond to this downturn in the farm economy and protect farm income."

Due to a lack of storage across the country, she said, farmers will be unable to "fully access these parts of the farm safety net when they need it the most," unless the payment limitation is raised.

"One of the strong points of the bills are that they are budget neutral," said Mrs. Emerson. "It will not cost anything if we raise the payment limitation, and it will make the biggest difference to farmers of anything we can do."

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