Farm Bill Stalls

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 30, 2001

Features Editor

In October, the United States House of Representatives passed a new peanut program as part of the 10-year Federal Farm Bill, however, the Senate failed to vote on the farm bill before the holiday recess, leaving peanut farmers out in the cold – for now.

"I am very proud of the work accomplished in the House this year for our farmers," said Alabama Congressman Terry Everett. "After two years of field hearings held all across the country, the House Agriculture Committee came together to draft and pass, in less than eight months, a Farm Bill which responds to the needs of American’s Agriculture community.

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"Furthermore, we did it within budget. Soon after, the full House followed our lead by passing the 10-year Farm Bill by a solid margin. The timely passage of the Farm Bill is critical because farmers need to go to their lenders to secure funding for next year’s crop."

Everett expressed disappointment that the Senate had no demonstrated an equal regard for he farmer.

"The Senate has failed on several attempts this year to pass its own Farm Bill," Everett said. "Knowing that our farmers have to begin now for the coming crop year, I am deeply disappointed that the majority of lawmakers in the U.S. Senate have not passed a Farm Bill this year."

Everett said he is committed to keeping the pressure on the Senate when Congress returns in January.

"We need to pass a Farm Bill for the benefit of America’s hard-working farmers," he said.

Of major concern to Pike County farmers is the peanut program that is part of the Farm Bill reform.

Everett says the new peanut program will protect the industry.

"In face of the certain elimination of the peanut program by political opponents coupled with the negative effects of reduced tariffs on foreign peanut imports, the peanut industry came together like never before to forge a new program which continues to provide a viable safety net for producers," the congressman said.

According to Everett, the new peanut title protects growers and eliminates the political opposition to the peanut program.

"The new title protects the peanut program by making it operate more like other commodity programs while providing compensation to quota holders who would see a phase-out of the current quota system," he said.

Specifically, the new peanut title included in the 2001 Farm Bill phases out the quota system over five years while providing quota holders a 10-cent-a-pound per year buy-out for their quota peanuts over the five-year period.

Furthermore, the program would be transformed into a market loan structure whereby the federal government guarantees growers a $350-a-ton market loan payment, while setting the domestic peanut target price at $480-a-ton, Everett said. Peanut growers would also receive a $36-a-ton fixed decoupled payment.

"Absent these changes, our peanut industry would certainly not be able to survive the mounting political opposition it has garnered on Capitol Hill because of the unique nature of its current quota system," Everett said. "In addition, tariffs on Mexican peanuts are decreasing every year and will vanish in 2008, thus undermining the current quota system."

The passage of a new peanut program title means a more stable future for our peanut industry which is so vital for the Southeast Alabama economy, Everett said.

Robert Hughes has been farming on his own for more than 30 years and he agrees that the present peanut program is in danger of putting the farmer out of the peanut business.

"The reduced tariff on peanuts coming in from Mexico has hurt the American peanut farmer and what goes on in Washington is just about as damaging," he said. "We don’t have congressmen and senators who understand the plight of the farmer and, evidently, don’t realize that farmers feed America. Then, you have the lobbyist for companies that depend on the peanut industry, like the big candy companies – Hershey and Mars – that want to buy peanuts at rock bottom prices. Farmers can’t survive against those odds."

Hughes said the new peanut program is supposed to be farmer friendly, but it’s complicated and he’s not sure how farmer friendly it will be.

"The new program does put the peanuts in the hand of the farmer instead of the land owner," he said. "But, if land owners choose to put their acreage into pine trees instead of renting it out to the farmer – well, that could hurt."

Hughes said his hope is that the new peanut program passes the Senate as soon as it goes back in session.

"Right now we just don’t know," he said. "We could still be under the quota system or we could operate under the new program. But I do know that if something doesn’t happen peanut farming will be a thing of the past. I’d like to farm peanuts until the last day I farm, but I might not be able to do that. I might not be able to farm at all. It gets tougher and tougher every year. I’m don’t think people realize how much they depend on farmers. Less than 2 percent of the country’s population farms and we feed everybody else. Looks like somebody would appreciate that."

On the national average, the American farmer feeds 129 people – and you.

"That’s something to think about," Hughes said. "Farmers will think about it while we wait to see what happens in January with the Farm Bill. It’s going to have a big impact on our lives."