House-Senate conference committee members reportedly have agreed that any changes they make in the payment limit language in a new farm bill will not take affect until the 2003 crop year.

The report was one of the few positive developments to come out of weekend negotiating sessions on April 20 and 21, which had conferees going line-by-line through the farm bill's trade, energy and research titles. Another: Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin said he believed conferees could complete a farm bill the week of April 22.

The rare Saturday and Sunday work sessions followed a roller-coaster ride of a week in which conferees went from the brink of a final farm bill compromise to a near-collapse of the negotiations after Senate Democrats backed away from the deal.

The near agreement reportedly included language that would have reduced payment limits for AMTA, counter-cyclical and loan deficiency payments, but retained the three-entity rule and actively engaged language in the current farm bill. It would have also continued the use of generic certificates.

When Senate conferees came back to the table with a counter-offer, it contained the original Grassley-Dorgan payment limit language in the Senate farm bill.

House and Senate conferees also remained far apart on the corn loan rate, which, besides the Grassley payment limit amendment, has become the biggest stumbling block to passage of a new farm bill.

In their latest offer, Senate Democrats proposed setting the loan rate for corn at $2.02 and for soybeans at $5.04 per bushel. The House position called for loan rates of $1.97 for corn and $4.98 for soybeans vs. the House bill's $1.89 for corn and $4.92 for soybeans.

“On payment limits, we would send back to the House the payment limitations in the Senate bill,” said Harkin said in announcing the Senate conferees' offer. He also noted that the House had passed a non-binding resolution supporting the Grassley amendment on April 18.

Rep. Larry Combest, chairman of the farm bill conference committee, said the resolution would have no impact on the House conference members' negotiating position.

As the conference committee continued to meet, several farm organizations sent letters urging Senate Democrats on the conference committee to support the House offer. The three Republican Senate conferees have already voted to approve the House proposal.

“Among the recent commodity proposals offered in the conference, NCGA believes the House's initial concept allows for the most appropriate balance of support between the new counter-cyclical payments and marketing loan assistance program,” said Tim Hume, president of the 32,000-member National Corn Growers Association.

“NCGA urges the conferees to support the House's proposal for higher counter-cyclical target prices coupled with the marketing loan rate structure provided in the original House bill. The initial House proposal, in our view, will best minimize production distortions while providing a comparable or higher level of farm income support.”

“The U.S. cotton industry calls on the Senate leadership to accept this offer and deliver a farm bill for the president's signature immediately so benefits can be applicable to the 2002 crop year,” said Kenneth Hood, chairman of the National Cotton Council.

“The House proposal is an intelligent and innovative compromise that provides cost effective and sound farm policy for America's farmers and ranchers. This package provides a meaningful safety net for all agricultural producers and does not discriminate against commercial-sized operations that produce the bulk of U.S. agricultural commodities.”

“Our producers support the House offer as a reasonable compromise to reach consensus on a farm bill as soon as possible,” said Nolen Canon, chairman of the U.S. Rice Producers Association.

Canon said the rice growers, in particular, support:

  • The loan rate, fixed payment rate and target prices for rice in the House offer;
  • The reduction of the term of the House farm bill from 10 years to seven years;
  • The compromise on the amendment of current law payment limitations; and
  • The opportunity for producers to update their bases and yields.

Only the American Soybean Association and the National Farmers Union supported the Senate offer.

Bart Ruth, ASA president, said the Senate loan rate proposal provided more equitable treatment of soybeans compared with other program crops.

“ASA has made it clear throughout the farm bill process that we are flexible on the level of each of the three support programs as long as soybeans are treated equitably with other crops,” he said. “The Senate provisions respond to our request that the fixed payment for soybeans should be set at a higher level if our current loan rate is reduced. The soybean target price offered in the Senate plan is slightly above the midpoint of the levels in both previous Senate and House offers.”


e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com.