Bring up the word “farmer,” and many in Washington, D.C., picture an image of someone made wealthy through the farm bill, says Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kans.

“We, in agriculture, have our work cut out for us,” the chairman of the House Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management told farm leaders during a Sept. 22 visit to the Mississippi Delta. Organized by Stoneville, Miss.-based Delta Council and Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., the tour gave Moran the opportunity to interact with Delta farm leaders, and get a close-up view of Delta catfish ponds, a cotton gin, and rice, soybean and cotton fields.

Determining how much congressional support agriculture can muster, Moran says, is a matter of perception versus reality.

The perception among some in Congress is that an inordinate amount of money is being spent on agriculture. This black eye on the industry means when talks of spending cuts begin to buzz around Congress, the attention can quickly focus on agriculture.

However, the reality of agriculture spending is quite different with only 16 percent of total farm bill expenditures payments to farmers.

During the last year, Moran says, he has seen how farm business structures differ drastically from one region to the next, and one crop to the next. And while Moran says farming operations need to be the most efficient size needed for profitability, the perceived image of big money farmers could explain the continued push by some in Congress for payment limitation reductions.

Moran doesn't see a need to reopen the farm bill debate, and calls the divisiveness caused by payments limitations “unhealthy.”

“Those of us who care about agriculture are a small group, and if we don't work together, we will get nothing done,” he says. “There is no desire among House leadership to revisit the issues in the current farm bill, and the likelihood of the Grassley amendment every becoming law is very unlikely.”

If the Senate were to approve a re-introduced payment limitations amendment by Sen. Grassley, Moran “doubts” the willingness among House conferees to re-open the issue. “Should the issue re-emerge on the House floor, many of us would work to insure that policy issue is left alone,” he says.

The Payment Limitation Commission's report suggested that no dramatic changes be made to payment limitations in the near future, and Moran says that seems to be the correct avenue to pursue.

What's more, Moran believes the appropriations process is not the proper avenue to deal with the payment limitations issue. “If the issue comes up at all, it should come up in discussion by the agriculture committee in the context of a future farm bill. Changing the rules mid-game is unfair, and I don't believe the Grassley amendment is the right policy, anyway.”

Moran says he's “not surprised” the recent WTO talks broke off without a resolution. It's one reason he didn't make the trip to Cancun.

“I don't know where it goes from here, and I don't see any breakthrough in WTO anytime soon,” he says. “Europe pays eight times what we do in direct farm support, and 87 percent of all export assistance worldwide comes from European countries. I'm not sure the French can just walk away from that level of government farm support.”

Moran hates to see agriculture left off the table, but he says it would be easier for WTO negotiators to leave agriculture issues off the table in order to resolve the current round of talks. “I don't think that's to the benefit of U.S. agriculture, and we need to look closely at the consequences of trade agreements on our farm policy. It may require some restructuring of farm payments at some point.

“There's a bigger issue here than those trade agreements, and that's cost of production,” Moran says. “We've always said that given a level playing field, we can compete with anyone. But, it's not just the tariffs that cause our problems. It's the cost of production, when countries like Brazil can produce the same commodities with lower land prices, lower labor costs and lower input costs.”

Another factor affecting U.S. competitiveness is currency value. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, and other congressmen have introduced a resolution calling on China and other Asian countries to stop manipulating their currencies to gain an advantage over U.S. manufacturers.

According to the resolution's sponsors, China and other Asian countries gain a 25 to 40 percent advantage over U.S. manufactured and agricultural products by pegging their currencies at a level 25 to 40 percent below the value of the dollar.

Moran says he supported normal trade relations with China and their ascension to the WTO, but “it's been very disappointing. We haven't seen the benefits, and our trade agreements have been oversold.”

The Chinese currency issue has recently captured the Bush administration's attention; they claim some progress has been made, but Moran is skeptical of a “quick solution.”

“In the past, the administration's interest in currency value has centered on keeping the United State's currency value high, but that,” says Moran, “is a detriment to U.S. agriculture.”

Moran represents the 69-county “Big First” District of western and central Kansas. First elected to Congress in November 1996, he was re-elected to a fourth term in 2002 with a record 91 percent of the vote.

Since arriving in Congress, Moran has served as an advocate for small business, agriculture, and education initiatives.

He continues a long tradition of the “Big First” by serving on the House Agriculture Committee, which has oversight and authority over federal farm and food assistance programs. In January 2003, Moran was selected to chair the Agriculture Subcommittee on General Commodities and Risk Management. He is also an active member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

In addition to his committee assignments, Moran chairs the Rural Caucus Task Force on Telecommunications, is a member of the executive committee of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and serves as an Assistant Majority Whip on the floor of the House of Representatives.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com