With the unveiling last Wednesday of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's proposals for the preparation of the 2007 farm bill, leaders of the nation's wheat industry are concerned that wheat is not on equal footing with other commodities. This question was made even more pointed by the fact that Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns had acknowledged that wheat was not treated fairly in the 2002 farm legislation.
Brookville-area farmer Joe Kejr, the President of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, put it this way last week: "One side of the issue is that I'm glad the administration is trying to step up with some proposals of its own. But I'm disappointed there is no fix to correct the inequalities between commodities."
The inequalities, says Dusti Fritz, chief executive officer of Kansas Wheat, are apparent in the direct payment portion of the USDA proposal. Wheat growers will receive a 7% increase in direct payments, while soybean growers, for example, would receive a 13% increase and cotton, 66% increase.
"It is disappointing that U.S.D.A. missed an opportunity to put forward an equitable proposal in light of the many times Secretary Johanns has publicly stated that wheat was not treated fairly in the 2002 Farm Bill," Fritz says. "Fortunately, Congress writes the new bill and we have a window of opportunity in the coming months to make sure an adequate safety net is provided in the 2007 legislation."
Stafford-area farmer Randy Fritzemeier, a member of the KAWG board, expressed concerns about the plans to reform and modernize the Marketing Assistance Loan Program and what direction that might go. He also worries about the plan to increase payments for beginning farmers, and who might this funding go to; whether there will be increased paperwork for farmers and the Farm Service Agency pertaining to a farmer qualifying for commodity payments; and the possible consolidating of cost-share programs into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Fritzemeier also expressed concern about how final regulations would be written concerning high-income individuals who invest in farm ground, and who may switch from a crop-share lease thereby forcing the tenant to pay high cash rent and assume all the government payments. The net effect of this type of rule will force the tenant to assume all the risk on the ground, while the investor assumes little or no risk. But, as Fritzemeier says, "It is the tenant who can least afford to absorb the risk."