Wheat Growers Leery
by Scott Yates, staff writer
Ask Sherman Reese how this year's farm bill debate is different from those that occurred in 1996 or 2002 and he has a ready answer: Less money, fewer friends.
Reese, a former president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, now serves on the Oregon Wheat Commission. He was in Denver Sept. 30-Oct. 1 for a joint meeting of U.S. Wheat Associates and NAWG.
Reese believes whether or not there even is a farm bill approved this year is an iffy proposition.
Reese said there is a three-way split within the Democratic party: Tom Harkin, D-Iowa and chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, is in favor of more conservation. Max Baucus, D-Mont., supports permanent disaster legislation. And Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is reportedly working on his own mark-up of the bill.
The ranking minority member of the Agriculture Committee, Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., is in favor of direct payments. So is NAWG, which pushed hard to include the support in the House.
Long gone is the NAWG farm bill proposal, which advocated a $5.29-per-bushel target price for wheat and $1.19 direct payment.
John Thaemert, president of the wheat growers association, said the 52-cent-a-bushel direct payment passed by the House is the best way to deliver money to his members. Uncoupled from production and yields, a direct payment is also the most trade-friendly support available among nations governed by the World Trade Organization.
Thaemert called direct payments "the only way to guarantee income and maintain a baseline" that can be used in future years in an environment less friendly to wheat.
Reese said the trend line for "Friends of Agriculture" in both houses amd both parties is down, making the commodity title of the farm bill a tougher sale.
Tom Mick, chief executive officer of the Washington Grain Alliance, said talking about a direct payment during a period of nearly $10-a-bushel wheat prices doesn't help matters.
"Parochialism is rampant and that is hurting the bill," Mick said. "It's crazy. And no one is even trying to pull commodity groups together."
Reese said, "there is more pressure to have an environmentally sensitive - some would say overly sensitive - farm bill."
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