Speakers tell Southern Crop Production Association

FAIR likely to last through expiration DESPITE shortcomings of the current farm bill, it's not likely that there will be new legislation before its scheduled expiration two years from now, three members of the 21st Century Commission Agriculture said at the annual meeting of the Southern Crop Production Association.

The 11-member commission, created under terms of the Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act (FAIR) of 1996, is charged with conducting a comprehensive review of production agriculture in the U.S. and the appropriate role of the federal government in supporting agriculture.

The commission has held a series of hearings around the nation to solicit input from farmers, agribusiness, and other sectors, and is to submit specific legislative recommendations for future farm legislation by Jan. 1, 2001.

"There is much speculation as to whether we will get new legislation or whether we'll stick with this bill to its end," says Bruce Brumfield, Mississippi cotton, rice, soybean, small grains, and catfish producer. "We may start getting some clues when we see how the elections turn out, but I personally feel there will not be new legislation before this bill expires."

Another commission member, Bob Stallman, Texas rice and cattle producer who earlier this year became president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, agreed:"I don't think we'll see a new farm program in 2001. We may have to go through another year of ad hoc assistance from Congress, but I believe the debate on new farm legislation can begin in earnest next year."

They and a third commission member, Iowa producer William Northey, along with Alabama producer Steve Tate, were panel discussants at the SCPA meeting at Amelia Island, Fla.

"For three years, we've been holding meetings, looking at what works, what doesn't, what other countries are doing," Northey said. "Thereis no silver bullet - nothing that fixes everything for everyone.

"This is a big country and there are a lot of different farming operations. If you fix something here, you have to be careful you don't screw things up somewhere else.

"We probably will end up with a hodgepodge of programs that won't be a total fix, but maybe it will be better than trying to devise a program that will fit everyone. Our challenge is to try and do the least harm possible."

All agreed that: - Farmers like the planting flexibility and lack of acreage controls under Freedom to Farm and that future legislation should continue that feature.

- There should, however, be a "safety net" to protect farmers in times of overproduction and low world prices.

- Given the oversuppy/low price scenario of the past three years, Congress' generosity with supplemental funding has been a boon to farmers who would have otherwise been financially devastated.

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