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Not yet singing in harmony

Agriculture.com Staff 03/01/2007 @ 3:40pm

TAMPA, Florida -- For the first time, three of the nation's top commodity groups, representing corn, soybean and wheat farmers, are meeting together here at the Commodity Classic. The weather is warm and the mood is good, thanks to high prices.

But when it comes to ideas for the next farm bill, each group is still taking a different approach to lobbying for changes in commodity programs.

The National Association of Wheat Growers is pushing a big increase in direct payments, from the current 52¢ a bushel to $1.19. It also wants target prices used to calculate counter cyclical payments boosted from $3.92 a bushel to $5.29.

The American Soybean Association wants to base both of those programs on an Olympic average of prices between 2000 and 2004 (throwing out the high and low years) for all program crops. The effect of that would be a big boost in bean target prices-from 5.85 a bushel now to $6.85. The loan rate would go up a penny, from $5 a bushel to $5.01.

The National Corn Growers Association looks ready to formally endorse its policy action team's idea to start a completely new counter cyclical program that is based on county-level yields and national crop prices. It would be something like a federally subsidized version of Group Risk Income Protection or GRIP, a type of crop insurance.

All this may seem pretty theoretical with $4 corn, but as NCGA's president, Kansas farmer Ken McCauley put it Thursday, "We're looking at the safety net aspect of the farm bill. Even though we don't need it today, we may need it tomorrow."

So far, though, the wheat and soybean growers aren't ready to change nets.

The Wheat Growers' board of directors met Thursday and didn't vote to back the Corn Growers' new program.

Wheat Growers president Dale Schuler of Carter, Montana was diplomatic.

"That's not a policy we endorse, but we're willing to work with the Corn Growers," he told Agriculture Online.

The problem, according to wheat and soybean growers, is that the revenue-based safety net advocated by the Corn Growers was originally tied to the 2002 Farm Bill's target prices. And they're so low that soybean and wheat didn't benefit from the counter cyclical program.

"If you don't raise the target price, it doesn't help wheat or soybean farmers," said Bob Metz, a South Dakota farmer who is ASA's chairman.

So the wheat growers want a bigger direct payment. Kansas farmer John Thaemert, who heads NAWG's policy committee, said the larger payment would cover the 30% of the crop that is at risk for farmers who typically buy crop insurance at the 70% level.

Even in good years, "if you have a 5% or 10 % profit margin after years of 25% to 30% losses, you're still in a terrible hole," Thaemert said. At that's exactly where some wheat producers have found themselves after several years of drought under the 2002 Farm Bill.

The Corn Growers won't vote on their own revenue-based safety net until Saturday. Already, its proposal has been changed, NCGA policy team chairman Steve Pigg told voting delegates Thursday.

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