Score round one for farm organizations trying to preserve the 2002 farm bill for all farmers. As expected, the Grassley-Dorgan payment limit legislation was introduced as an amendment to the fiscal 2003 agricultural appropriations bill during a mark-up session in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.
But Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, later withdrew the amendment, complaining that her office had been swamped with e-mails from farm groups and that Republican leaders had threatened to cut off funding for her congressional district.
There was no confirmation of the latter, but the National Cotton Council thanked Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, chairman of the ag appropriations subcommittee, for “working diligently” to urge his colleagues not to accept Kaptur's amendment or other amendments that would radically change the new farm bill.
The NCC also gave credit to Reps. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo.; Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; Jack Kingston, R-Ga.; Allen Boyd, D-Fla.; Bud Cramer, D-Ala.; and Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., for their assistance in the fight.
While Kaptur introduced the amendment, it had all the provisions of the Grassley-Dorgan legislation that passed the Senate — $75,000 for direct and counter-cyclical payments; $150,000 for loan deficiency payments; an additional $50,000 if the spouse participates; elimination of the three-entity rule; and new “actively engaged” rules.
Although Grassley-Dorgan has come to be identified as an attack on cotton and rice farmers, farm groups have formed a coalition opposing efforts to attach similar amendments to appropriations bills or other legislation. Coalition members held a Washington press conference July 16 to show a united front against changing the farm bill.
Farm bill criticism continues to focus on payments to large, “greedy” growers at the expense of smaller, “working” farmers. Somehow, critics equate the fact that some farms are bigger with the idea that they are less deserving of assistance in times of low prices.
They talk about “saving the family farm,” without realizing or wanting to admit that many larger operations are family farms, as Hunter Moorhead, legislative assistant to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., noted in a speech to the Mississippi Farm Bureau's Commodity Conference.
“This farm bill makes payments no matter what the size of the farm,” said Moorhead. “We also want to save the family farm, but we don't want to destroy the larger farms either.”
Moorhead, who participated in all of the farm bill conference committee's sessions, said he and other Senate staffers were continuing to try to educate their Midwest counterparts about the cost of production differences between corn and soybeans and cotton and rice.
“We've been saying that farmers with as few as 480 acres of rice would be impacted by the Grassley-Dorgan,” he said. “You can't pay for new combines and all the other things you need to grow rice with a farm that small, and the same is basically true for cotton.”
As the Senate Ag Appropriations Subcommittee takes up the fiscal 2003 ag appropriations bill, Moorhead expects its members to fend off more attempts to amend the bill with Grassley-Dorgan-like payment limit legislation.
“It will be intense, but we will have to work through it. Our farmers have too much at stake.”