FARM BILL: Ag comments mostly favorable

The paper “represents a commendable job,” with farm policies that “are balanced and equitable and establish a very creditable foundation from which to build new farm programs that will provide a more effective safety net for farmers, enhance the industry’s competitiveness, and benefit the rural economy and farmers,” Mark D. Williams said on behalf of the National Cotton Council.

“From cotton’s perspective, there is little about the basic farm concept of your paper with which to take issue,” he said at the hearings conducted by Larry Combest, R-Texas, chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. “Our industry supports many aspects of the committee’s work.” These include, Williams said:

•A marketing loan keyed to the world market price.

•Retention of cotton’s three-step competitiveness plan.

•Retention of fixed, decoupled payments.

•A new counter-cyclical payment program.

• An option for growers to update their payment bases.

•Retention of full planting flexibility, with no mandatory supply management requirements.

“We’re very pleased with the committee’s work,” said Dusty Tallman, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. “I’m confident we’re proceeding down the correct path, and that the final product of these deliberations will be a farm bill we can all support.”

He said wheat growers “have always supported the basic philosophical and practical underpinnings of the 1996 FAIR Act — and the counter-cyclical component of the committee’s draft adds the missing element of the original act. With this addition, we view this as a very complete document.”

Nolen Canon, chairman of the US Rice Producers Association, said “the general reaction of rice producers to the concept paper has been positive; it appears the committee has done an admirable job of making the best of the limited resources available to craft a serious farm bill proposal.”

The committee paper, he said, is “consistent with many of the principles” supported by rice growers, chief among them “planting and marketing flexibility, while establishing a new counter-cyclical assistance program.

“We believe the concept paper represents a positive step toward developing a new farm bill that will provide rice producers a more effective income safety net,” Canon said.

Not all comments were positive, however.

Tony Anderson, president of the American Soybean Association, said “we do not find (it) to be balanced and equitable in its treatment of oilseed crops.”

He said while the paper gives program crops their current loan rates, the target prices they had prior to the FAIR Act, and the 2002 ATMA payment, oilseeds would get reduced loan rates and target prices and fixed payments “at levels that do not reflect their value or historical price relationship to program costs.”

This, Anderson said would force producers “to choose between base periods that lock in these unequal benefits, resulting in sharply reduced income protection for most oilseed producers, and the likelihood of increased, base-driven production of program crops.”

He urged the committee to “take another look” at proposals presented in earlier hearings. “One of the benefits of establishing a new counter-cyclical income support program is that it can be built from the ground up Û making it easier to address all crops equitably. We strongly encourage reexamination of these concepts to see if a new approach can be developed, rather than going back to the target price model,” Anderson said.

Leo Bindel, president of the National Grain Sorghum Producers, said the committee’s proposal to equalize the sorghum loan rate in relation to other commodities “is critical to the needs of grain sorghum producers nationwide.

“We believe that from a long term policy standpoint, (this) is one of the most significant conservation items in the bill. It allows producers the ability to plant a crop that will help them meet conservation compliance and save important resources.”

Bindel recommended that a statutory minimum be incorporated into the law “in the same manner as for cotton, oilseeds, and rice Û we recommend that this minimum level be set at $1.89 per bushel.”

Last year, he noted, the spread between the sorghum loan rate and other feed grains was the widest in more than 30 years. “It’s no mere coincidence that we harvested the lowest number of acres on record since 1953,” Bindel said.

Leland Swenson, president of the National Farmers Union, said his organization believes the acreage bases and yield provisions of the committee’s paper would “encourage further consolidation of farms into larger sized operations in terms of acreage, with little regard to producer investments on productivity or production efficiency.

“The bias of current programs to extend a disproportionate share of benefits to the largest landowners, who are not necessarily producers” would be increased.

“We are unable to endorse all the components of the farm bill concept paper because they cannot adequately address the food and agriculture needs of America within the available budget,” Swenson said.

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