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Payment limits attract attention in Heartland

WHEN Congress return from recess this week, farm organization leaders are expected to push for raising the limit on marketing loan gains from $75,000 to $150,000.

But, for once, it appears Southern farm groups won't have to shoulder most of the burden of persuading Congress to lift the arbitrary cap on how much money a farmer can receive from using the marketing loan.

With grain prices plummeting in recent weeks, many Midwesterners are expected to hit the $75,000 limit when they begin to "POP" their corn and soybeans this fall. (Producer option payments could total well over $1 per bushel for soybeans.)

Southern growers will be facing similar problems, but not to the extent as in 1999 when cotton producer option payments were running 10 to 15 cents per pound. Analysts say that if December futures remain near current levels, POP payments could average less than four cents per pound.

Speakers at the American Cotton Producers' meeting in Raleigh, N.C., talked about payment limits. But, it was clear that cotton's representatives don't plan to do all the heavy lifting on the issue this time.

"As long as we have marketing certificates, we can live with payment limits," said National Cotton Council President Robert McLendon. "But, we need to make changes in this program."

Reps. Marion Berry, D-Ark., and Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., have introduced legislation that would increase the limit on marketing loan gains for the 2000 crop year.

While time will be of the essence in this session - Congress plans to adjourn on Oct. 6 to allow members to return their districts to campaign - House-Senate conference committee members are expected to add a payment limit provision to the fiscal 2001 agricultural appropriations bill.

McLendon said the cap on payments was one more way that commercial-size farming operations are being discriminated against in government programs. "We didn't choose to get big," he said. "We just got big trying to survive.

"I would rather grow 100 acres than 1,000 acres," he noted. "I'd get a bird dog again, and a fishing pole."

Despite its efforts to educate the Clinton administration on the issue, he said, the NCC continues to run into resistance from the White House Office of Management and Budget each time payment limits arise.

"The House Agriculture Committee is also sensitive to this issue," said McLendon. "In my discussions with them, they have said they are concerned about adverse publicity that talk of raising payment limits receives."

But, cotton farmers may be about to receive some help on the issue, he said. "In the 12 or 13 years I've been going to Washington, the other commodity organizations have never been interested in payment limits. It wasn't a problem for the majority of the corn or soybean producers in the Midwest.

"With $1.75 corn, it is becoming a problem for them," says McLendon. "For the first time, they are interested in payment limits, particularly on marketing gains. Most of the time when you get the Midwest interested in an ag problem, we get some movement in Washington."

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