Despite this week's jump in grain and oilseed prices, most of the nation's farmers are not happy campers.
Drought and subsequent shut-offs of government water projects has jolted many in the west. The profusion of foreign fruit and vegetable imports is causing consternation among American growers. And the bounty produced by grain and oilseed producers tends to benefit the American agri-industrial complex rather than farmers or rural communities.
And therein lies the challenge of formulating government farm policy. It's hard to find anyone who is happy with the current law. There is certainly no shortage of proposals to change it. This week some more were laid on the table.
The current farm law, commonly known as Freedom To Farm, expires September 30th of 2002. But farm state lawmakers aren't waiting, as the drafting and debating of a new farm law already is under way.
SLUG: House Ag Hearing
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest this week circulated an outline of a revised farm law that would base crop subsidies partly on target prices. The proposal calls for a continued annual subsidy of about $4 billion. But an additional $4.8 billion would be paid under the target price system.
The Texas Republican's plan also would allot $1.5 billion a year in new conservation spending. Farmers still would be able to collect loan deficiency payments and marketing loans as they do now.
SLUG: Capitol Bells
From the other side of the aisle, a proposal pushed this week by Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson includes marketing loans based on costs of production, as well as counter-cyclical protections based on moving loan rates. Peterson says when farm income and crop prices drop, his proposal targets the highest assistance to small- and mid-sized farmers.
Rep. Collin Peterson: "It would all be in the loan rate, so there'd be no AMTA payments. There'd be no other fixed payments that would be tied on previous production. You would get the money from the government to support your crops out of the loan rate. For example, it would be $4.00 on wheat, $2.40 on corn, $5.30 on soybeans; so when you took your crop, you'd out it under loan, you'd get that $4.00 amount. And you'd get the money out of the system that way, rather than all these convoluted AMTA payments."
The plan also includes three limited reserves, a supply management system for dairy farmers, and increased funding for conservation programs.
The House version of a new farm bill is scheduled to come out of the Ag Committee on August 2nd, right before Congress begins its month-long summer recess.
No matter what form the new farm bill takes one thing is certain – the tenor of the debate at Senate Agriculture hearings will change. Outspoken populist Paul Wellstone says he will take the seat on the committee that his party gained last month when it took control of the Senate. The Minnesota Democrat has been a harsh critic of the 96' farm law, often derisively referring to it as the "Freedom to Fail" bill. Wellstone says one of his goals is to help oversee the writing of legislation he considers more friendly to family farms.