As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee — and chair of the Production, Income Protection and Price Support Subcommittee — Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln has been in the thick of crafting a new farm bill.
When she spoke with Delta Farm Press on March 20, the Democrat expressed frustration with the seeming “snail's pace” in the bill's final phase of deal making. However, she said good legislation was still possible by mid-April. Among her comments:
On hearing from farmers/lenders nervous about the situation…
“We're hearing story after story of farmers going to their lenders and the lenders wanting to know what they can expect, what the law will be.
“We've extended (current law) through April 18. But folks are starting to get in the field now. They need to know what to expect.
“Prices are good but, as I remind my colleagues in (Washington, D.C.), they may be good now but input costs are almost double what they've been. Whether it's the cost of fuel — which continues to go up — fertilizer, seed or chemical application. And that's if you can (locate a supply).
“We're just trying to figure out how to get that message to Washington, the common sense. They may not think (such a situation) hurts, but it does because our farm families, our producers must make a plan. With all the needs they face and must provide for, every one of them is uncertain. That uncertainty certainly (filters) down to the bankers.”
Are you hearing any news, or signals, on payments limits? On where the money available will go in terms of titles?
“We came to an agreement that $10 billion over baseline would be a number to start with. So, then, they had to begin looking at allocations.
“The problem is if you get too far afield it starts looking as though people are overreaching. We're going to have to come back to square one and say, ‘We had a great compromise and a very balanced bill. We don't need to get too far from that.’
“From our standpoint, (the Senate version of the farm bill) was balanced in terms of region, in terms of titles. There were plus-ups in areas (being demanded like) conservation, nutrition, energy, and rural development.
“We were able to work parts of the commodity title to kind of maintain a strong safety net with reforms.”
President Bush said “No more short-term extensions of the 2002 bill. We'll go with a yearlong extension from here.” How close is the bill to being done by April 18?
“I believe we're very close. I believe the majority of the farm-state senators — those that represent heavily agricultural areas of the nation — (already agree). The problem is we have many members that don't come from farm states or agricultural areas.
“They want to change the farm bill into something it's not.
“So we need a bit of muscle to push this thing over the line. That means folks that want to change the bill into something that, frankly, is weighted in (certain) areas (must compromise).
“I think a yearlong extension is absolutely irresponsible. It's irresponsible for the president to push for it or say it would be acceptable.
“The (Bush) administration has a great opportunity to come to the table here. We've bent over backwards to meet every one of their concerns as they've brought them to us — how we pay for it, the amount we use, the reforms they need. We've bent over backwards to meet their concerns. Every time we get where they want us to be, they come up with another.”
On dynamics in Congress and the biggest hold-up for a new farm bill…
“The biggest hold-ups we have (are often due) to those who don't understand farm bill programs — and the conservation and commodity programs can be complicated in many instances. And they don't want to take the time to understand those programs' importance. That's unfortunate because they end up squabbling over some minute detail that does nothing but slow the train down.
“I think a lot of members will come back from the break saying, ‘People must be fair and thoughtful. Let's move this forward and send it to (President Bush).’
“Who knows what (Bush's) thought of the day will be in terms of a veto. We never know because it changes from day to day.
“But I can't believe that after all the work we've done, with all the bipartisanship, all the thoughtful balancing … the president would veto what we send him.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: go to www.deltafarmpress.com for more from this interview with Lincoln.