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Persistent Grassley just biding his time

Washington insiders on hand last week for the annual joint meeting of the American Cotton Producers and Cotton Foundation in Corpus Christi said Grassley, R, Iowa, likely has up to six different amendments in his pocket aimed at payment limitations for farm programs. He’ll try to attach one or more of these amendments to an appropriations bill, said Hunt Shipman, chief of staff for the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“We don’t know yet how he’ll introduce payment limitations,” Shipman said, “but we’re working to prepare for them. And it’s not just an issue for cotton and rice. A number of other commodity associations are concerned. In fact, we’ve found no association that supports payment limitations.

“We’re talking about change in the middle of a farm bill,” Shipman said, “and that’s not right. That legislation was a contract with producers. This likely will be an emotional debate but one I think will be persuaded by the negative impact on agriculture and the damage to a number of agriculture sectors.”

Allen Mackey, staff member with the House Ag Committee, said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R, Texas, has been able to prevent House amendments to the appropriations bill that would damage agriculture. “He sees no basis to justify an argument for payment limitations,” Mackey said.

Payment limitations affect more than just a farmer’s bottom line, he said. “These changes would affect how a program works and would affect lending agencies and industry. How can lenders justify loans when they don’t have accurate numbers because payment limitations could change.”

Such uncertainty also extends to agricultural suppliers he said.

“We have been pleased that the House did not take up any amendments that would have undone the farm bill,” he said.

John Maguire, National Cotton Council Senior Vice President for Washington Operations, said the challenge would come in the Senate with budget resolutions. “So far, Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss., has not allowed language that would damage farm programs, but Grassley has other amendments for payment limitations that he’ll try to attach to anything he can.”

“The National Cotton Council is opposed to any change in farm law,” said Bobby Greene, NCC Chairman. “We expect Grassley to continue to offer his amendments as often as he can, but the current law must remain intact.”

Greene said continuity within the farm program is “crucial to the industry. We need consistency.”

Shipman said farm programs may not be prominent on the radar screen for the rest of the year. “It’s a non-farm bill year and The Congress has other pressing issues,” he said.”

He, Greene, Mackey and Maguire did point to Country of Origin Labeling, nutrition assistance programs and trade as other issues that could affect U.S. farmers.

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