Just how serious is the threat that Midwest senators could re-introduce the Grassley-Dorgan payment limit amendment to new legislation and severely hamstring the 2002 farm bill?
More serious than many growers may realize, according to Kenneth Hood, the National Cotton Council chairman who recently experienced first-hand just how vicious the national news media criticism of the farm bill has become.
“Sen. Grassley can dismantle this farm bill, if given the chance,” said Hood, referring to the Iowa senator who co-authored the amendment to the Senate farm bill that would have clamped tight restrictions on the amount of the new law's benefits any grower might receive.
Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the other co-author, have indicated they will re-introduce their amendment when the Senate takes up the fiscal 2003 agricultural appropriations bill later this month.
Hood, a speaker at the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation's Summer Commodity Conference, said the battle over the Grassley-Dorgan amendment, which helped delay passage of the new farm bill until late spring, could resume “very quickly; perhaps as early as next week (the week of July 15).”
Coley Bailey, a farmer from Yalobusha County, Miss., and chairman of the Mississippi Farm Bureau's Cotton Committee, introduced Hood as having been on the “hot seat,” a reference to a Wall Street Journal article that accused Hood and U.S. cotton farmers of causing the collapse of cotton prices in southwest Africa.
“We're all on the hot seat,” said Hood, a producer from Gunnison, Miss., who once chaired the MFBF cotton committee. “I have to tell you that, after all we've been through to pass this farm bill, we may not even get to see it work.”
Hood said the 16 farm groups that have joined together in support of the new farm bill have scheduled a July 16 press conference to highlight their opposition to the Grassley-Dorgan amendment.
“It has been very gratifying to see the role the American Farm Bureau Federation has chosen to play in this coalition,” said Hood. “Bob Stallman (the AFBF president) will conduct the press conference on July 16 to show that farm organizations are united in opposition to the Grassley amendment.”
The American Farm Bureau is coordinating efforts to work with the news media on addressing criticism of the farm bill while the National Corn Growers Association is coordinating visits to Capitol Hill, he said.
Craig Brown, the NCC's vice president for producer affairs who also spoke at the Mississippi Farm Bureau meeting, said the simple message is that “We oppose any amendments to the farm bill that will reduce the benefits that have been promised to producers.”
Brown said House Appropriations Committee members were scheduled to mark up the agricultural appropriations bill on July 11. The Farm Bureau, the Council and 20 other farm organizations sent a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees, asking them to reject any payment limit amendments.
“We know amendments will be offered (in the House appropriations subcommittee),” he said. “Then it will go to the House floor and to the Senate where more amendments can be offered. We will just have to work through them.”
Brown said USDA is “working feverishly” to implement the new farm bill and has scheduled a meeting July 22 to bring its state specialists in and educate them on farm bill rules and regulations. “We're being told that they may begin signup in late August,” he noted.
He urged Farm Bureau members and other producers to begin preparing for the signup by getting their records together and reviewing the new law's options for updating their acreage bases and yields.
“This year you will have to make critical decisions on the new farm bill that will affect your farming operation for the remaining years of the 2002 law,” said Brown. “It's very similar to the one-time signup that occurred with the 1996 farm bill.”
Signup for the new law is likely to occur in the middle of harvest for many producers, he said. “When they send the letter notifying you of your appointment to come into the county FSA office, you need to get ready. Get your records in order. If you didn't operate a farm serial number in 1998-2001 that you're farming now, get the records from whoever did.
“If you have multiple landowners on a farm serial number, start preparing them for the decisions they may need to make.”
Brown repeated Hood's urging that farmers take the threats of attaching the Grassley-Dorgan amendment to the ag appropriations bill seriously.
“We don't want to let this movement (on payment limits) get traction,” said Brown. “We can't start to rest and think this farm bill is done, that we don't have to worry about it any longer.”