One of my fondest memories is the argument that occurred between my mother and my grandfather before each presidential election.

My mother always voted Republican because she believed Republicans would keep the country out of another war; my grandfather voted the other ticket because he felt Democrats would do more for farmers.

I recalled that argument while reading one of the e-mails responding to a recent column on farm organizations' concerns about the impact Democratic control of the Senate might have on farm spending.

The reader's comments closely echoed my grandfather's philosophy: “Democrats have ALWAYS tried to get more money for farmers,” he said. “Freedom to Farm was a Republican farm bill written by Newt Gingrich. I have been farming 28 years, and this is the WORST farm bill I have ever experienced.”

Another reader said he was hopeful that since Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana was no longer chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, the Senate would write a new farm bill in 2001.

For a few days after Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa took over the chairmanship, it appeared the second reader might be disappointed. Harkin had said that while the committee would hold hearings this year, he saw nothing wrong with following Sen. Lugar's plan of writing a new farm bill next year.

That was before new Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Kent Conrad — the Senate's Dakota tag team — began pressuring Harkin to take action sooner rather than later.

Harkin met with the majority and minority staffs of the Agriculture Committee June 8 and advised them not to make any vacation plans this summer because they would be spending a lot of time writing new farm bill language.

Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota who has authored several new farm bills in recent years only to see them die in committee, appears to be pushing Harkin and Daschle, the senior senator from South Dakota, because of worries about agricultural spending as much as his disagreement with Freedom to Farm.

In a letter to then-Chairman Lugar in May, Conrad argued that the Agriculture Committee must move quickly to enact new legislation for two reasons: 1) Because of the economic downturn, the anticipated budget surplus might disappear; and 2) that other spending categories such as defense or education might drain the so-called reserve fund in the FY 2002 budget resolution before Congress passed a new farm bill.

Conrad and Daschle may have had more reason to be alarmed than other Midwesterners because Dakota farmers have endured three years of low wheat prices and adverse growing conditions. Wheat farmers may have suffered more under Freedom to Farm than any other commodity because of their lack of suitable cropping alternatives.

On the other hand, Republican senators like Mississippi's Thad Cochran and Kansas' Pat Roberts have been at the forefront of efforts to provide supplemental AMTA payments and disaster funding.

So, will farmers fare better under a Democratic or Republican-controlled Senate? The truth is that in almost evenly divided Senate farmers will need every vote they can get on both sides of the aisle to get the help they need.


e-mail: forrest_laws@intertec.com