“There’s been a lot written about the farm bill that was just passed – about how rich farmers will be the ones who receive the money,” said the Arkansas Democrat. “Well, you should take that money, spend it wisely and apologize to no one for it.

“You’ve earned it and need not say you’re sorry for the great job you do,” said Berry.

In the midst of a re-election bid, Berry made a stop at the Cache River Valley Seed field day in Cash, Ark. Speaking to a large crowd of attendees, Berry, D-Ark., encouraged farmers to weather the bad publicity surrounding the latest farm bill.

The farm bill is “a wise way” to spend taxpayer money, he said, “and don’t let anyone make you feel badly about it.” Berry had particularly harsh words for environmentalists who opposed funding new agriculture legislation.

He singled out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) as working against farmer interests. Of EWG President Ken Cook, Berry said, “You don’t want to do anything illegal or violent, but that guy deserves anything that comes to him.”

Regarding the specifics of the farm bill, Berry said it “wasn’t as good as it should have been but it was as good as it was going to get. In the end, I’m pleased with it. I’m thankful we didn’t lose it all. At one point, I thought we weren’t going to be able to hold what we ended up with.”

However, even with a new farm bill written into law several things concern him, said the congressman. One is poor U.S. trade representation. Citing a headline in the Aug. 16 business section of the Washington Post, Berry said U.S. trade representatives have made an offer to the World Trade Organization (WTO) “that we’ll reduce our farm program back to Freedom to Farm levels.

“That would reduce the program by about 40 percent,” he noted, adding that the offer is contingent on the rest of the world – the European Union, Japan, Korea and other countries – reducing their programs.

A few months ago, Berry cautioned that one of the reasons the Bush administration was agreeing to a new farm bill was because they intended to “trade it away to the WTO anyway.” The good news about the latest trade gambit, he says, “is it will take four or five years to negotiate it out.”

Berry said U.S. trade reps are currently employing a tactic learned from environmental groups. “If you can’t get a deal in your own country – if you can’t get your own legislature or Congress or whatever to get what you want done – then go negotiate an international agreement and claim you’re bound by it.”

That agreement can then become the federal legislation that negotiators wanted from the beginning.

“That’s what we’re faced with currently,” said Berry. The U.S. trade people have the idea that we must reduce the farm safety net. I’m very concerned about that.”

Another Berry concern is fast track authority for trade issues. The same U.S. negotiators pushing for fast track authority are the same ones making unwise overtures to the WTO, he said.

“I’ve always supported (fast track authority) until this year,” he noted. “These are the same people who have the authority to open the Cuban markets but they won’t do it. They are the same trade officials who are allowing Russia to keep our poultry products out of that country.

“Every freezer in this country is full of meat and (the fallout) is beginning to back up into the soybean and grain markets. If they’re given that authority it would take away our power to deal with a situation like we had with the Vietnamese dumping catfish into this country.”

This is all happening because we haven’t been tough enough in trade negotiations, said Berry.

“The good news is, when appropriations come up, I believe we’ll be able to beat back the attempts of the proponents of the Grassley Amendment for more restrictive farm payments,” he said. “Grassley will attempt to get that back in, but I think we’ll beat it. We had the votes when (Congress took a break) and I don’t think we’ll lose any.”

Sen. Charles Grassley is the Iowa Republican who authored legislation that would have limited farmers to payments of $275,000 per year. Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have said they will re-introduce the legislation when the 2003 ag appropriations bill comes to the floors of their chambers.

“As I said, we’ve gotten some August rains and markets are beginning to pick up a bit,” said Berry. “I’ve believed for a long time, and will go to my grave believing, that we’re blessed to live in this wonderful country. The lower Mississippi River Valley is blessed with fertile soil, 50 inches of rainfall per year and a highway into the international ag market that’s unmatched anywhere in the world. Some way or other we always find a way to make it work.”

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com