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Midwest farmers may see payment limits in different light

Last fall’s record and near-record soybean and corn crops haven’t done much for commodity prices, but they may have helped some Midwest farmers get a different slant on the payment limit issue.

Growers who thought payment limits were a “Southern problem” have begun to see the debate in a different light after grain had to be stockpiled across much of the Midwest, according to Dana Brooks, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“When I was in Nebraska in the fall, I saw corn piled up all over the country,” said Brooks. “A young farmer came up to me and said, ‘you know, we’re going to have a problem with payment limits.’ I told him, ‘Well, you need to call your senator, right now.’”

Brooks, a speaker at a Farm Bill Forum conducted by the University of Tennessee Extension Service and Tennessee Farm Bureau in Brownsville, Tenn., said the payment limit fight has almost become a cottage industry in Washington.

“There are certain members of Congress who simply will not let that issue go,” said Brooks, a native of Portland, Ark., who worked on the staff of Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., before joining Farm Bureau. Her father operates a cotton and catfish farm.

“We have won the battle for the most part, but it will be difficult to hang onto the current payment limits regulations in the next farm bill.”

She said the American Farm Bureau Federation will continue to work with the National Cotton Council, the National Corn Growers Association and other commodity groups who advocate keeping the current rules.

Some of those organizations, whose leaders are on record supporting the 2002 farm bill’s payment limit provisions, may see more sympathy from their Midwest members for their stance after their experiences in 2005, she said.

“The Midwest producers who didn’t think this was an issue for them have this year learned about three entities. They are experiencing situations they never thought they would experience before with higher LDPs on corn. They have had higher production, they have corn piled up everywhere and it’s not moving.”

Brooks said she accompanied a group of Farm Bureau presidents from the “I” states — Illinois, Indiana and Iowa — on a tour of the Delta region conducted by the Mississippi Farm Bureau two years ago.

“We went through an area that had miles and miles of corn fields, and they were surprised at how much corn we could grow,” she said. “We tried to impress on them that we can grow corn and soybeans. We have an infrastructure in place, and we’re close to the Gulf of Mexico.

“So if we can’t grow cotton and rice, we are high production states, and we’re going to grow something.”

Brooks, who was substituting for American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman at the forum, said she expected that most of the 100 farmers in the audience in Brownsville would be happy if Congress would simply extend the 2002 farm bill.

“If not, tell me afterwards,” she said. “At Farm Bureau, it’s obvious that we support the 2002 farm bill. Our delegate body voted to recommend an extension of the current law at our annual meeting in Nashville.”

The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 or 2002 farm bill has produced savings of $15 billion to $18 billion from the initial projects, she said. “Spending will probably be up for 2005 and 2006 because of situations like those in the Midwest. But we still have produced savings over what was anticipated when Congress passed the law.”

Most farm organizations also anticipate that the Bush administration will try to play a much larger role in writing the next farm bill than it did when Congress passed the current legislation.

“The Department of Agriculture conducted 52 farm bill forums or listening sessions, beginning with the one that was conducted here in Tennessee,” she said. “We expect that Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns will present proposals or a white paper on the administration’s position. But Congress will still write the farm bill.”

Brooks read a list of the questions that Johanns posed before the start of last year’s farm legislation listening sessions.

“It’s interesting that none of those questions ask you how you feel about the farm safety net,” she said. “We believe that has to be the starting point for any new farm bill discussion.”

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