Prior to the June 19 mark-up by the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities that approved a five-year extension of the 2002 farm bill commodity title, most producers felt the recent legislative wrangling made an extension a distinct long shot. They weren't the only ones.
Shortly after the subcommittee vote, Rep. Marion Berry spoke with Delta Farm Press about the circumstances around the vote. The outcome surprised him although the extension is hardly a done deal. The full House Agriculture Committee mark-up has been pushed back until after July 4.
“This is a very positive development — especially for Mid-South agriculture,” said the east Arkansas Democrat. “That's where the big hit was going to come.”
“I was almost in panic mode. Last Friday (June 15), we learned that the (House Subcommittee on General Farm) Commodities and Risk Management planned to cut cotton loan rates by 2 cents, do away with the three-entity rule, and cut direct payments only for rice farmers. They also wanted to increase the loan rate for wheat by, I think, 19 cents. The expectation was the money saved by these actions would be put into conservation titles…
“I had a long talk with Speaker (Pelosi) late last night. I was very concerned about all this because it was a mistake. I don't know what happened during the night, but I went to bed thinking that's what the mark-up would (produce). It turned out, someone offered an amendment to substitute current law for this supposed bill. And it passed!
“So the mark-up came out of subcommittee to extend current law. If you'd given me a perfect situation a week ago, I'd have said, ‘that's it’ and I'd be thrilled. And I am. But we're a long way from being through with this.
“Another interesting thing is the Kind amendment — which would be basically the end of farm programs as we know them — was defeated unanimously. They even had a roll call vote and it didn't get a positive vote…
“The (Bush) administration's bill was also offered and it went down. Their bill wasn't that far off from what we thought the committee would offer last night.”
“The interesting thing is if you extend current law today, it would save $57 billion. You'd spend $57 billion less than the 2002 bill. So, we're getting considerable savings in the farm bill because prices are higher and as much money won't have to be paid out…
“This is probably the best we could expect.”