After following the ups and downs of the farm bill debate for two years, you could easily assume that most farmers have become experts on the subject. I was reminded that might not be the case by a call from a farmer asking about the winter wheat loan rate.

After we found his county's loan rate on the USDA Website (http://www.usda.gov/farmbill), the farmer said: “That's lower than last year. I thought this new farm bill was supposed to make things better for us.”

I explained USDA's Farm Service Agency has released a new loan schedule because of the 2002 farm bill's loan rates changes, and that it had adjusted the rates for corn, wheat and other grains to more accurately reflect market conditions in each county. I told him that although the loan rate for his county might have been reduced, he would be helped by the farm bill's new counter-cyclical or target price payment for wheat.

As I described the new target price, you could almost see a lightbulb click on over his head. The farmer did not know USDA would be making payments for the difference between the $3.86 wheat target price and the total of his county loan rate of $2.39 and fixed payment of 52 cents per bushel ($3.86 - $2.39 + .52 = $.95).

I forgot to tell the farmer, who didn't give his name, that if his acreage has changed or his yields have improved in recent years, he should consider asking his county FSA office to update his base and yields for those counter-cyclical payments.

Farmers can elect the higher of 70 percent of the difference between his current payment yield and a full yield update based on 1998-2001 yields on planted acreage or 93.5 percent of 1998-2001 yields on planted acreage.

The phone call reminds us how far we have to go in educating ourselves about the new farm bill. Another conversation two days later brought home how far we have to go in defending it.

A young farmer attending LSU's Northeast Research Station Field Day was lamenting the attacks being leveled at the new legislation. “How can we defend the farm bill when you have all these talk show hosts and environmentalists and even members of Congress blasting it every day?” he asked. “I'm not sure we can keep this legislation if this keeps up.”

Farm organization leaders were asking the same question in Washington the day before. During a meeting, House Agriculture Committee and White House representatives reportedly asked the groups to do something to take the heat off the committee and the president for passing and signing the bill.

Sources said the American Farm Bureau Federation would work with the communications folks at each organization to step up efforts to inform consumers about the need for the farm bill.

The National Corn Growers Association, meanwhile, will coordinate visits with members of Congress, primarily Midwest senators like Iowa's Charles Grassley, who have been more vocal in their farm bill criticisms.

Ag Committee representatives also unveiled “The Facts on U.S. Farm Policy,” a paper available on the HAC Website at http://www.agriculture.house.gov.