Although admitting surprise at the vehemence of the criticism, the leaders refused to back off from their support of the legislation, which is estimated to provide new spending of $57.1 billion for farm programs over the next 10 years.

“For the first time in six years, we have a safety net for our farmers,” said Kenneth Hood, a cotton producer from Mississippi and chairman of the National Cotton Council. The NCC invited members of the organizations to Washington to discuss how to mount a defense of the farm bill.

Other leaders said they were becoming concerned that the legislation’s increased funding was becoming a tempting target for senators seeking disaster assistance funding in the wake of the ongoing drought in the western states.

“People may treat the new law as a bank and try to raid some money,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman of Texas.

The organization leaders also noted that Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has promised to re-introduce the Grassley-Dorgan payment limit amendment when the Senate begins consideration of the 2003 agricultural appropriations bill.

The amendment, which was included in the Senate farm bill, but deleted from the farm bill conference report, would limit farmers and their wives to $275,000 in annual farm bill payments and eliminate the use of generic certificates when growers reach the payment limit on marketing loan gains.

Following their meeting, the groups issued the following statement:

“The undersigned commodity and general farm organizations unanimously support the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 as enacted. We share a common concern about unjustified criticism that erode public confidence in U.S. agriculture and weaken the ability to preserve a viable U.S. agriculture sector. We are further concerned about the potential detrimental effect of the criticisms on the ability of U.S. negotiators to protect the interest of U.S. agriculture and U.S. consumers in new WTO agreements.

Among the organizations signing the statement were the AFBF, the Cotton Council, National Farmers Union, National Corn Growers Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, the American Soybean Association, the USA Rice Federation, the U.S. Rice Producers Association, the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, the National Grain Sorghum Producers Association and the America Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com