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Commentary: Baby, the rain must fall. But indoors? In Iowa?

He doesn’t have horns sprouting from his head, at least not in the photos I’ve seen. But for a lot of cotton and rice farmers, he is the man they love to dislike.

Thus, a lot of those cotton and rice farmers - who also grow soybeans - were not the least amused when, at the recent Commodity Classic awards banquet in Las Vegas, the American Soybean Association presented its Special Meritorious Award to Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who’s probably done more than anyone in Congress to scuttle farm program payment limits.

The ASA citation lauded the senator as “a true friend to ASA and U.S. agriculture,” and noted “he speaks for farmers at policymaking tables in Washington and around the world...and has positively impacted and improved the lives of U.S. soybean farmers through better tax policy, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, job-generating international trade, farm bills, and leadership on promoting biodiesel...”

Talk about feeding the hand that bites you.

Missouri cotton farmer/broker Barry Bean, who also runs an Internet bulletin board for Mid-South cotton growers, was among the first to comment on the award.

“Given that Charles Grassley has been the single most prominent proponent of payment limits that would cripple many cotton and rice operations...he is, in fact, no friend to U.S. agriculture...(but) is a direct threat to our economic well-being.”

Further, Bean noted, it rankles that “at a time when commodity organizations should be pulling together to preserve our farm program, the ASA has opted to recognize a man eager to open the farm bill and effectively limit cotton and rice operations to economically unsustainable sizes.”

Yes, well, there ain’t a lot of cotton or rice operations in Iowa. The senator’s crusade against payment limits is apt to generate little disfavor among his constituents, while at the same time promoting his image of fiscal conservatism.

Although the current farm bill is set to run through 2007, the senator is doing his darndest to work through the appropriations process to effect immediate changes in payment limits, slashing them by half.

“These sky-high farm payments to the biggest of the big are driving many family farmers off the farm and squeezing out chances for first-time farmers trying to get started,” he says. His amendment assumes a limit of $40,000 for direct payments, $60,000 for counter-cyclical payments, and $200,000 for loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains. Grassley says this would save $1.221 billion, which could be applied against the reductions suffered in several agricultural programs.

Mid-South senators and representatives, along with others from cotton/rice-growing states, are doing everything possible to head off the amendment, but several acknowledge it’s going to be “a tough fight” to maintain current payment limits.

Putting aside Sen. Grassley’s apparent lack of understanding of the differences between low cost, low input Iowa soybean farmers and high cost, high input southern cotton/rice growers, it’s interesting that among the 10,072 “pork” projects in 13 congressional appropriations bills, this “fiscal conservative” is sponsoring a project to build an indoor rainforest and learning center in Iowa. The cost started out at $300 million, and is now at about $180 million.

An indoor rain forest? In Iowa?

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