The current farm bill has its origins in the 1985 Food Security Act. “That was the year the marketing loan program was introduced for cotton and rice,” said Richard Bell, head of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture and former CEO of Riceland Foods. “(It was) a radical move that changed the structure of farm policy.”

The program was introduced to make cotton and rice competitive in world markets. It worked well, said Bell, and spread to other crops. “It's the heart of agriculture policy.”

Concerning current trade negotiations, Bell endorsed the five points in a letter recently sent by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., to Secretary Johanns and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman. (For more information, see http://deltafarmpress.com/news/101205chambliss-letter/index.html).

“I consider your proposal unrealistic,” he told Connor. “And that's from someone who's been in this for a long, long time.”

Bell then pointed to rice. “I don't know if you realize it or not, but we haven't increased the loan rate for rice in 17 years. Very few people haven't had a raise in 17 years.

“I must admit I was an advocate of the counter-cyclical payment. I like the old deficiency payment we had — it provided us protection we didn't have otherwise.

“But the schedule of payments we ended up with is a disaster. You don't know when you'll get it. It could be a year after the crop's ended.

Summing up the proceedings, Bell told Connor, “When you get this far south, we look at the world differently than they do in Iowa, Nebraska or Indiana.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com