During a June 19 mark-up, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities approved a five-year extension of the 2002 farm bill commodity title. Prior to the vote, most producers felt the recent legislative wrangling over a new farm bill made even a proposed 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.

“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.”

The full House Agriculture Committee mark-up has been pushed back until after July 4.

Among Berry’s comments:

On the lead up to the subcommittee meeting…

“At this time yesterday, 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!

On other proposed legislation…

“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.”

On what a farm bill extension would mean…

“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.”

On the Senate Agriculture Committee’s farm bill writing pace…

“It would be great if the Senate could get its bill out before the August recess. But I wouldn’t be surprised if, later in the year after Labor Day, the House and Senate clearly can’t agree. Then, we’d just extend current law so we’ll have a farm bill for the next year, maybe two. If we extend, I think it should go for at least two years.”

On Oxfam’s report on West African cotton farmers being hurt by U.S. subsidies…

“The United States has the most successful food and fiber program in the history of the world. That success comes because we provide a safety net for our producers that makes it possible for them to be guaranteed a certain level of production and processing capacity. That leads to our nation having a reasonably priced food and fiber supply… To take our success at that and mess with it is absolutely foolish.

“Oxfam and other (agitating) groups are perfectly entitled to their opinion. But if you’re bedding your cotton up with a couple of oxen you won’t be able to compete with a six-row cotton picker. That’s all there is to it.

“I was in Cuba a couple of weeks ago. When you drive across the country, they have agriculture operations all over. But they still told us they can buy rice, chicken and other commodities from the United States much cheaper than producing them on the island. They said they’d prefer making money doing something else and buy food and fiber from the United States.

“Just in Cuba alone, someone would have to invest billions of dollars to bring in the machinery, the technology and skills to bring their agriculture system into a successful production capacity. But they don’t have the money and don’t have investors either.

“The same type of problem exists in West Africa. I’m so sorry those folks haven’t been able to govern themselves and create a favorable situation where that kind of investment would take place. But we didn’t cause that…”

On a proposed permanent disaster title…

“I don’t have a problem with a permanent disaster title. I’d support one. But I think it’ll have to be accommodated in the crop insurance somewhere. I don’t think both are needed. It would definitely be a political piñata.”

Anything else?

“I encourage everyone to remember and pray for our men and women in uniform.”

email: dbennett@farmpress.com