In their response to a compromise offered by House members of the farm bill conference committee, Senate Democrats proposed setting the loan rate for corn at $2.02 and for soybeans at $5.04 per bushel. The House position calls for loan rates of $1.95 for corn and $4.98 for soybeans.

Senate Democrats also said they were sticking with the payment limit language in the Grassley-Dorgan amendment to the Senate-passed bill, although earlier reports had said they had agreed to a House compromise on the issue.

“On payment limits, we would send back to the House the payment limitations in the Senate bill,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, Senate Agriculture Committee chairman, who noted that the House had passed a resolution supporting the Grassley amendment.

Rep. Larry Combest, chairman of the farm bill conference committee, said the resolution would have no impact on the House conference members’ negotiating position. Rep. Nick Smith of Michigan, a frequent critic of payments to “mega-farming” operations, introduced the resolution.

The payment limit compromise reportedly would have decreased the amounts farmers could receive in AMTA or fixed and counter-cyclical payments and marketing loan gains, but would have retained the three-entity rule and the use of generic certificates.

As the conference committee continued to meet today, most farm organizations sent letters urging Senate Democrats on the conference committee to support the House offer. The three Republican Senate conferees have already voted to approve the House proposal.

“Among the recent commodity proposals offered in the Conference, NCGA believes the House’s initial concept allows for the most appropriate balance of support between the new counter-cyclical payments and marketing loan assistance program,” said Tim Hume, president of the 32,000-member National Corn Growers Association.

“NCGA urges the Conferees to support the House’s proposal for higher counter-cyclical target prices coupled with the marketing loan rate structure provided in the original House bill. The initial House proposal, in our view, will best minimize production distortions while providing a comparable or higher level of farm income support.”

“The U.S. cotton industry calls on the Senate leadership to accept this offer and deliver a farm bill for the President’s signature immediately so benefits can be applicable to the 2002 crop year,” said Kenneth Hood, chairman of the National Cotton Council.

“The House proposal is an intelligent and innovative compromise that provides cost effective and sound farm policy for America’s farmers and ranchers. This package provides a meaningful safety net for all agricultural producers and does not discriminate against commercial-sized operations that produce the bulk of U.S. agricultural commodities.”

“Our producers support the House offer as a reasonable compromise to reach consensus on a farm bill as soon as possible,” said Nolen Canon, chairman of the U.S. Rice Producers Association.

Canon said the rice growers, in particular, support:

  • The loan rate, fixed payment rate and target prices for rice in the House offer;
  • The reduction of the tenor of the House farm bill from 10 years to seven years;
  • The compromise on the amendment of current law payment limitations; and
  • The opportunity for producers to update their bases and yields.

Only the American Soybean Association and the National Farmers Union supported the Senate counter-proposal.

Bart Ruth, ASA president, said his organization was supporting the Senate offer because it provided more equitable treatment of soybeans compared with other program crops.

“ASA has made it clear throughout the farm bill process that we are flexible on the level of each of the three support programs as long as soybeans are treated equitably with other crops,” he said.

“The Senate provisions respond to our request that the fixed payment for soybeans should be set at a higher level if our current loan rate is reduced. The soybean target price offered in the Senate plan is slightly above the midpoint of the levels in both previous Senate and House offers.”($5.90 in the Senate offer vs. $5.82 in the House plan.)

The National Farmers Union said it opposed the House offer because it did not do enough to address the “desperate economic situation in rural America, according to the NFU’s Dave Frederickson.

The NFU issued another call for higher marketing loan rates and updated crop yields, an adequate safety net for dairy producers, mandatory country-of-origin labeling and the ban on packer ownership of livestock more than 14 days before slaughter.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com