The letters had barely had time to make it through the mail, however before Nickles and House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle had announced plans to make drastic cutbacks in both the mandatory and discretionary portions of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

While the letters could apply to any portion of the FSRIA, they were directed primarily at efforts to impose more stringent payment limits on the commodity provisions of the new law.

On Tuesday, Sen. Charles Grassley re-introduced last year’s Grassley-Dorgan payment limit legislation that passed the Senate but was dropped out of the final farm bill conference report. While details were sketchy, Grassley’s new legislation was expected to at least eliminate generic commodity certificates from the farm bill.

“As you and your colleagues work on the FY04 Budget Resolution, the following diverse consortium of commodity, conservation, and wildlife organizations respectfully and strongly encourage you to include the full funding levels authorized in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (FSRIA ’02),” the letter said.

“We are concerned that any proposals to modify the funding levels in FSRIA ’02 will undermine the overall intent of the 2002 Farm Bill.”

Besides Nickles, an Oklahoma Republican, the letter was sent to North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, and to Reps. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, chairman and John Spratt, Jr., D-S.C., ranking member, of the House Budget Committee.

“The new farm law helps address problems faced by American farmers and ranchers and it provides important funds for our nation’s conservation needs,” the letter said.

“Consequently we oppose any reductions to the funding levels embodied in the 2002 Farm Bill and ask you and your colleagues to do likewise. We look forward to working with you and your colleagues in support of a FY04 Budget Resolution without any reductions from the funding levels expressed in the recently passed Farm Bill.”

Although reports said Grassley had introduced the bill, no copies had been made available. The Iowa senator was expected to outline the bill during Budget Committee deliberations on the fiscal year 2004 Budget Resolution today or tomorrow.

Last year’s Grassley-Dorgan amendment capped farm program payments at a single limit of $225,000 or $275,000 for a farmer and his wife. The amendment eliminated the three-entity rule, barred USDA from issuing generic commodity certificates and established a $2.5 million limit on adjusted gross income for persons to be eligible for farm payments.

Signing the letter to Sen. Nickles were: American Farm Bureau Federation, American Farmland Trust, American Society of Agronomy, American Soybean Association, Certified Crop Advisors, Crop Science Society of America, Defenders of Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, National Association of Conservation Districts,

National Association of State Conservation Agencies, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Audubon Society, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Cotton Council, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Pork Producers Council, Soil Science Society of America, Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, The Minnesota Project, United Egg Association, United Egg Producers, USA Rice Producers Federation and the Wildlife Management Institute.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com