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Activity in Washington D.C. causing divisions on the farm

The farm bill has created divisions among regions and among crops. Nowhere are the differences of opinion more pronounced than in the Virginia-Carolinas and peanuts.

While peanut-growing states in the Southeast and Southwest are heralding the change in policy as a leap forward, producers in the V-C are apprehensive to say the least.

That could be part of the reason Jesse D. Williams got a standing ovation for his speech at the Virginia Peanut Growers Association annual meeting in late March. Williams, who is president of the group, gave voice to the disagreement, disappointment and frustration many V-C farmers are feeling. While most of his comments were directly related to peanuts, he also took on the general direction of agriculture in the nation.

It's a given there will be a new peanut program, vastly different from the ones for the previous 70 years or so.

No quota.. No price guarantee.

When the program will wend its way out of Congress and into the fields is only one of the frustrations facing peanut farmers these days. Quoting Larry Combest, R-Texas, Williams said it could be April 15. USDA's Tobacco and Peanuts Division said they would be prepared to administer the new program by Aug. 2, according to published reports.

Despite the uncertainty of the farm bill, it's evident peanut farmers in the V-C area don't think too much of the new peanut program. Farmers are not sure how they will fare under the new program, sans quota. Peanut farmers are almost frozen in their tracks as winter turns to spring planting time.

V-C producers feel as if they've been traded off in favor of peanuts being grown in the Southeast and west Texas, Williams says. On one of his many trips to Washington during the past year, Williams quipped to a colleague that if he were a betting man he would bet that growers from west Texas, along with shellers, would be coming out of the congressional offices as the Virginia-Carolina delegation was going in.

“I was right,” Williams told the group. “All of the major shellers pushed for the market loan for this year. One of my biggest disappointments was seeing Birdsong Peanuts advocating the new peanut program with west Texas growers against Virginia.”

In a separate interview with the Southeast Farm Press, Williams made it clear that he was not attacking anyone, just “trying to shake farmers up” to the reality.

In his trips to Washington, D.C., Williams worked against the House version, hoping for a better bill out of the Senate. The Senate increased its loan rate to $520, based largely on leadership input from the V-C area, he says. The Virginia peanut leadership did not support a buyout, but instead offered a $425-$450 per ton price for peanuts and would have allowed peanuts to be grown anywhere in the U.S. “Manufacturers screamed,” Williams says. He reminded the producers that the V-C area has not caused loan losses as has been the case in past years with other areas.

Whatever program eventually comes out of Congress, Williams urges producers to attend meetings and “fully understand the changes. Make sure someone helps you understand what the new program means.”

He told farmers it's not only peanut policy that's the problem. It's the general attitude about agriculture in this country. From consumers, manufacturers — and even right down to the farmers themselves.

“Joe Luter, of Smithfield Foods, was quoted as saying that he views the family farmer as ‘not good businesspeople, not sophisticated.’ He believes there should be a lot of pork producers in the U.S. — feeding out his pigs.”

“Farmers are not considered good businesspeople because they are not making any attempt to control production,” Williams said. “Their love of growing a crop at any price makes them vulnerable to manufacturers and middlemen. Other businessmen would not continue to produce at a loss. Farmers should cut their acreage when they cannot make a profit. We have to work together on this.

“How much smaller does the farm population have to get for us to learn to work together to control our destiny?”

After he finished the talk, many in the room felt like the words needed to be said — some even long before March 2002.

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