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Council backs House plan

The Mississippi Delta's “Chamber of Commerce,” the Delta Council, is putting its collective weight behind the new farm bill adopted by the House Agriculture Committee.

The Council's farm policy committee said it found several things to like in the bill: specifically, continuation of AMTA payments, a counter-cyclical income protection feature, a successful marketing loan program, oilseed assistance and cottonseed assistance.

But the committee also made some suggestions for improving the document.

“With regard to the soybean program provisions in the House proposal, any farm that chooses to maintain its historical base, instead of a modified base, should be eligible for the same program base eligibility and benefits on soybeans as the farmer who chooses the option of modified base,” a committee resolution said.

Delta Council is urging Congress to provide whatever funds are necessary to expand the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, in addition to supporting the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program.

“EQIP is one of the few remaining conservation programs available to all landowners and farm operators interested in combining conservation features into ongoing farming operations through a partnership with the federal government,” the resolution said.

The resolution was passed after speakers at the meeting outlined the language of the House Ag Committee bill and previewed prospects for a new farm bill in the Senate.

“We think the House draft (H.R. 2646) is a great package,” said Hunter Moorhead, who serves as a legislative aide to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. “The House proposal is a very nice concept, and it has a lot of weight behind it.”

But another speaker said farm organizations still face a number of hurdles before a new farm bill becomes law.

“The House gave us a good package to work with, but we're going to have our work cut out for us keeping what we have in the Senate,” said Craig Brown, vice president for producer affairs with the National Cotton Council.

Moorhead cautioned that the Senate package might look a little different from the House proposal.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the Senate Agriculture Committee chairman, hasn't set a deadline for the release of a Senate farm policy proposal, according to Moorhead. He's optimistic, though, that the Senate version will be released sometime in late August or early September.

Another likelihood is that the Senate version will contain additional conservation provisions with a price tag that Moorhead estimates could be as high as $4 billion.

“If you spend an additional $4 billion in conservation measures, that money has to come from somewhere,” he noted. “In the Senate farm bill proposal, that money may come out of the commodity title. Sen. Cochran will fight against that happening.”

When can growers expect a new farm bill? Probably not soon, according to Moorhead. “It will be difficult to get a farm bill passed this year. It is possible, though.”

Bobby Carson, who chairs Delta Council's farm policy committee, told members “the U.S. textile industry is in a financial meltdown, and it is cotton farmers' biggest customer. No matter what farm policy is adopted we will have to determine where the product of all of our cotton acres will go.”

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