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Farmers express outrage over payment limits

In my 21 years with Southeast Farm Press, I have never seen an issue galvanize farmers like the Grassley Amendment, the legislation that would impose strict new payment limits on growers who are neither large nor wealthy.

Covering a crop consultants meeting a few days ago, I was struck by the fact that the farm bill — and, by extension, the Grassley Amendment — was the Number One topic of conversation.

Many consultants, who probably don't get involved as much as they should on the political side of farming, expressed concern that they could lose customers who either will not receive financing or will have to change their operations if the Grassley Amendment becomes part of the final farm bill.

Several said the lack of a farm bill — and the potential for harm from the payment limit amendment — has created more uncertainty in their communities than they have ever known.

“I have a banker friend who attended a meeting of all the lenders in the Delta,” said one. “Not a single lender had made a crop loan for this year because they do not know what's going to happen with the farm bill.”

In e-mails and calls, farmers have been expressing their outrage and concern over the passage in the Senate bill of the “Ghastly Amendment.”

A Texas farmer said he had telephoned the office of North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, one of the co-sponsors of the amendment. A Dorgan aide told him the senator “now realizes that cotton and rice farmers are in trouble if the amendment makes the final farm bill.”

“He acknowledged that work will have to be done on the amendment in the House-Senate conference committee,” the farmer said. “I hope so because this amendment will severely impact our operation. With their higher yields, I suspect the new payment limits would also put Southeast farmers out of business or drastically reduce the acreage they farm.”

At press time, farm groups were focusing on the conference committee, which Rep. Larry Combest, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, reportedly will lead.

The day after the Senate vote, Combest met with farm organization representatives. Although he gave no specific views on payment limits or other issues, Combest said it could take months for him to get a “good” farm bill out of the conference.

Some observers say this means that Combest, who has said he opposes the Grassley Amendment, will not allow the bill to move forward if conferees such as Sen. Richard Lugar, a Grassley co-sponsor, insist that it be in the final conference report.

Combest reportedly expressed other concerns about the Senate bill, including its “front-loading” of farm benefits compared to the House bill and its short-changing of farmers in favor of spending on conservation programs.

Representatives said Combest also urged them to have their members contact their senators and representatives, especially those not on the conference committee, to make their views known about the Grassley Amendment and other farm bill issues. Given the uproar we've been hearing, we can't imagine that will be a problem for farmers, consultants or anyone else with a stake in the future of agriculture.

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