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Another battle forming on payment limitations

Sen. Charles Grassley should talk to the folks at John Deere.

As most farmers know, Sen. Grassley wrote the Grassley-Dorgan payment limit legislation, which most expect will be offered as an amendment to the 2003 ag appropriations bill in the next few days.

Grassley, an Iowa Republican, and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Reps. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and Nick Smith, R-Mich., seem to think that most farmers should be able to get along just fine with 400 to 500 acres and a two-cylinder tractor.

That's what the Grassley amendment with its cap of $225,000 on farm payments and elimination of the three-entity rule would have effectively limited many cotton and rice farming operations to if the legislation had been left in the 2002 farm bill.

But Deere specialists, speaking at a sneak preview, said customer research, including focus groups with farmers, indicates that most are planning to add acres to their operations. Case IH, New Holland and other manufacturers have been saying similar things.

Deere is planning to launch a series of new planters and accompanying seed handling systems and other accessories with features aimed at helping “growers who are expanding their farm operations and need equipment that will cover more acres in less time.”

In an agreement with Bauer Built Manufacturing, an Iowa-based company, Deere will be introducing its “DB” series of planters that can plant up to 36 22-inch rows at a time. The largest, an 80-foot-wide model that seems to stretch on for a mile, will seed up to 32, 30-inch rows.

It wouldn't be much of a stretch for Sen. Grassley to talk to John Deere's experts. Deere has a sizable manufacturing presence in Waterloo, Iowa, and Deere's world headquarters is just across the Mississippi River in Moline, Ill.

During the heated Senate debate on the Grassley-Dorgan amendment, Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., noted the irony of Grassley's attack on larger cotton farmers and the fact that Deere produces its $250,000 to $300,000 cotton pickers in Grassley's home state of Iowa.

The American Cotton Producers of the National Cotton Council and The Cotton Foundation discussed strategy for confronting Grassley's amendment during a meeting in Atlanta.

The council's Washington staff believes Grassley will be re-introduced as an amendment to the ag appropriations bill or to other bills in the House and Senate when they come up in early September.

Council Chairman Kenneth Hood defended the NCC's defense of the farm bill, noting that some members were asking that it do more to deflect media and congressional criticism of the new farm law. Aside from the millions of dollars needed, Hood said there was too little time to sway public opinion before the crucial votes are taken.

Council staff also discussed a survey of 100 business leaders taken shortly after the June 26 Wall Street Journal article that criticized Hood and other farmers. The survey said the article had little, if any, impact.

So it may be that the NCC should continue to focus on congressional leaders to head off stricter payment limits. How about a meeting between Sen. Grassley and John Deere executives during the August recess?

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