Members of Congress who want to impose new payment limitations on the 2002 farm bill should wait until a new commission authorized in the legislation has time to study the issue and report its findings, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman says.

Responding to a question about the Bush administration's position on the re-introduction of the Grassley-Dorgan payment limits amendment, the secretary indicated she thought it was too early to revisit the legislation passed by the Senate but rejected by the House-Senate farm bill conference committee.

“We have, in the farm bill, a commission that was authorized and established and that would have appointments by the secretary of agriculture and the Congress, also, to look at the whole issue of payment limits and what impact they may have,” she said. “I would certainly encourage the Congress to delay any action on such an amendment until such time as that commission has been formed and has been allowed to make its findings and recommendations.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the authors of the Senate farm bill payment limits amendment, tried to introduce the measure as an amendment to a supplemental appropriations bill in May, but the amendment was ruled as not germane to the bill.

He and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., have said they will introduce their language as an amendment to the fiscal 2003 agricultural appropriations bill, which the House and Senate could take up in the next few days.

(Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, offered a similar amendment during a House Appropriations Subcommittee mark-up session for the fiscal 2003 agricultural appropriations bill, but later withdrew it.)

Leaders of most of the major farm organizations called a press conference in Washington July 16 to state their opposition to the re-introduction of the Grassley-Dorgan amendment.

Veneman's comments came during an hour-long press conference in which she said USDA is working “aggressively” to implement the new farm bill. She was joined by Keith Collins, USDA's chief economist; Hunt Shipman, deputy undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services; and Bruce Knight, chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“In just a few short months, we've moved forward in a number of areas, everything from farm programs to trade, and getting the new programs up and running,” she said. “Our team has done yeoman's work, and they continue to do yeoman's work, particularly given the tight time constraints under which we are operating with this particular farm bill.”

The press conference covered a broad range of topics and announcements, including:

  • USDA will make an additional $275 million in funding available for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) including $200 million for enrollment in fiscal 2002, which ends Sept. 30.
  • USDA will extend the benefits of the marketing loan program so that farmers may be eligible to receive loan deficiency payments even if they did not enroll in the production flexibility contract program as part of the 1996 Freedom to Farm Law.
  • The entire state of Utah and certain counties in Arizona, California, and New Mexico are being declared agricultural disaster areas, making farmers and ranchers in those areas immediately eligible for emergency farm loans, because of the drought that has occurred in those areas.
  • Haying and grazing also will be permitted statewide on CRP acreage in the states that are most impacted by severe weather conditions. The move means that farmers in counties that have not been declared disasters can use their CRP land to help other farmers in their state through this difficult period.
  • USDA is waiving the 25 percent rental reduction for producers who donate their hay. The department is also establishing a Website to help farmers who want to donate hay to farmers in need. County FSA offices can provide farmers with more information on this program.

The secretary also called on Congress to move quickly in passing trade promotion authority, the legislation formerly known as Fast Track, which allows the president to negotiate trade agreements, which may be passed only on an up-and-down vote in the Senate.

“Moving forward on trade negotiations means help for our farmers and ranchers in this country,” she said. “TPA is strongly supported by the agricultural community, including all of my predecessors at USDA. Expanding markets and tearing down barriers will provide more opportunities for our farmers and ranchers.

“So again, we urge the Congress, particularly the leadership in the Senate, to move this legislation forward as quickly as possible so, hopefully, we can get it done before the August recess.”


e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com.