“Your own Administration has recognized a projected 20 percent drop in farm income without the introduction of a new omnibus farm bill or new emergency supplemental spending in the coming year,” Berry said in the letter.

“In your budget last year, you provided for $73.5 billion in above-baseline spending to relieve the ineffectiveness of the 1996 farm bill. However, your administration has mysteriously opposed passage of this much-needed support for American agriculture. I ask you to reverse this position and propose that Congress send H.R. 2646 (the proposed new Farm Bill) to your desk for a signature.”

Several days after President Bush’s state of the union address, Rep. Berry spoke with Delta Farm Press about the new Farm Bill, his disappointment in Senate Republicans and what he’s hearing from his constituents. Among Berry’s comments:

Q: What did you think of President Bush’s state of the union address and his take on the agriculture situation?

A: I thought he did a good job with the speech. He addressed the issues that he should have. I would have been much more comfortable had he called for passage of the House (Farm) Bill. Basically, all he said was we should have a Farm Bill.

That’s why we don’t have a Farm Bill today: the White House has been very ambiguous on the issue. They say they favor it on one hand, and then they say they won’t pay for the bills that are (available). There isn’t any question about them asking the Senate to hold up action on a Farm Bill. So we haven’t the votes to bring the Senate to closure.

Right after Christmas to the first of the year, we were told that the Senate would take the bill up. The first date mentioned was the first day we were back (in session), and then it was moved to Jan. 29. That passed and now they’re saying it’ll be up on Feb. 6. The date keeps slipping.

We need some leadership, and we need support from President Bush and Senate Republicans. Without it, I don’t see how we’re going to get anything done.”

Q: What about the House? How are things looking there?

A: Well, we’ve already passed a bill and are ready for conference. We feel like we could conference the bill in 30 minutes if the Senate would come in.”

Q: What’s your take on what was passed in the House? Were you pleased? Were there things you’d change?

A: There are always things you can change. But overall, I thought it was a balanced bill. We increased conservation and we increased the feeding program. It was as good as we could do with the money available. It was a strong enough bill that it’ll keep producers in business.

Q: So we’re still in a holding pattern without much movement behind the scenes?

A: As best I can determine it, that’s the way it looks.

Q: What have your constituents been calling and saying? What, other than just getting the farm bill passed, do they want?

A: They call and tell me they don’t know how they’re going to stay in business without (a new farm bill). Anything less than what the House did just won’t (work). I just met with 40 farmers. In the county they’re from, just this week nine farmers have gone out of business.

In my hometown of Gillette, a small community, we’ve had five farmers decide to quit since the first of the year. And it isn’t because they’re necessarily bankrupt. Instead, they just decided it isn’t worth it to farm any longer. They aren’t going to work so hard for nothing in return.

Without a better farm bill than what we currently have, I can’t predict what the fallout will be. But I think it will be considerable – at least a third of our producers.

Bankers and landowners all over are very concerned with who is going to farm the land. They know that people just aren’t going to (work the ground for paltry returns) anymore.

Another thing Berry says he’s seen this year is the need for farmers to fill out Farm Service Agency or FSA documents properly.

“Since so many people are going to be changing their operations this year, we’ve got some problems with reconstituting farms,” he noted. “The producers need to be extremely careful and vigilant when going through that process that they do everything exactly right. We’ve got some situations where people are losing farm program benefits because they made an inadvertent error. That’s a serious problem and people need to be warned.”

Email: dbennett@primediabusiness.com