Saying there is no excuse for the current farm bill situation, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas introduced economic assistance legislation that could help remove some of this spring's uncertainty for farmers if no farm bill is forthcoming.

Roberts' bill would provide $7.35 billion in Agricultural Market Transition Act or AMTA payments — about $2 billion more than last year's assistance package — if Congress does not finish a new farm bill in time for it to apply to the 2002 crops, he said in announcing the legislation.

The action came after House-Senate conference committee leaders announced that they would not complete a compromise farm bill before Congress left for its Easter-Passover recess. Instead, they said, conferees would return to work on the farm bill the week of April 9.

Roberts, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the bill would help protect farmers through the current crop year — whether Congress acts on a new farm bill this spring or not.

“Most importantly, it allows our nation's farmers and their bankers to plan their investments through 2002,” Roberts said. “Timing has become critical. Even if new farm legislation were passed shortly after Congress returns from the Easter recess, it would be too late to implement before late summer. That would be devastating for producers.”

The senator said his legislation is based on formulas used to calculate the 2000 AMTA payment, and thus could be implemented more easily by USDA. The year 2000 date was selected because it results in higher payments than the 2001 and 2002 AMTA formulas and the 2001 Market Loss Assistance (MLA) formula.

“American farmers know there is no excuse for the current farm bill situation in Congress,” he said. “The Senate, in passing a seriously flawed, partisan bill, has slowed the process and delayed much needed assistance from reaching producers.

“My legislation is designed to bridge the gap and protect farmers if a new farm bill cannot be passed by Congress for the 2002 crop.”

Roberts and Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, both Republicans, introduced legislation that would have provided significantly higher AMTA payments for program crops and soybeans during the Senate's debate on the new farm bill in December. But the proposal was rejected in favor of the Daschle-Harkin bill that passed the Senate Feb. 13.

The latter contains higher loan rates and more spending for conservation programs. Sources have said resolving the difference in loan rates between the Senate and House bills was one of the stumbling blocks that caused the conferees to delay completion of the farm bill conference report this week.

Roberts said the new legislation he introduced on March 20 does not mean that the farm bill is dead for 2002.

“Quite the contrary, staff of the conferees have been instructed to continue working over the recess period in the hope that a bill can be completed shortly after Easter,” the senator said.

“But having been involved in numerous farm bills, I know that these conferences can become quite contentious and bog down,” said Roberts, who led the House conference committee members who wrote the 1996 farm bill. “Furthermore, it is not going to be easy to implement this bill, not to mention the wisdom of simply pushing through a bill just so we can say it applies to the 2002 crop.

“That may be easy to do this year, but it may be difficult to live under the problems we could create for the next five or six years.”

Roberts also noted that many farmers in the South have begun spring planting and that producers across the nation will be in their fields soon.

Conference committee leaders did announce a framework agreement that spells out spending levels for the proposed farm bill. Most farm organizations hailed the agreement as an important step in resolving the farm bill deadlock.

Here are the major provisions of the legislation introduced by Senator Roberts:

Market Loss Assistance (MLA) distributed through the AMTA payment formula with payments equal to the 2000 AMTA payment level. According to USDA, the 2000 AMTA payment for each crop was:

* Wheat 58.8 cents/bushel
* Corn 33.4 cents/bushel
* Sorghum 40 cents/bushel
* Barley 25.1 cents/bushel
* Cotton 7.33 cents/pound
* Rice $2.60/hundredweight
* Oats 2.8 cents/bushel

This is the payment rate that producers would receive based upon the number of bushels they receive payments on under their existing AMTA contracts.

  • Oilseed Payments $466 million for direct payments to producers. This should be a payment of approximately 14 cents/bushel.

  • Peanuts — 455.21 million for direct payments to producers.

  • Honey — $93 million to provide recourse loans to producers for 2002.

  • Wool and Mohair — $16.94 million in direct payments.

  • Cottonseed Assistance — $93 million.

  • Specialty Crops — $186 million for commodity purchases. No less than $55 million must be used for school lunch program purchases.

  • Continuation of LDP eligibility for crops harvested on non-AMTA acres in 2002.

  • LDP Graze-out for wheat, barley, and oats on the 2002 crop.

  • Dairy Extension of the dairy price support program through Dec. 31, 2002.

  • Pulse Crops — $20 million for direct payments.

  • Tobacco — $100 million for direct payments.

  • CRP Technical Assistance — $44 million in 2002.

  • WRP — $200 million for the enrollment of additional acres in 2002.

  • EQIP — $300 million in additional funds for 2002.

  • Farmland Protection Program — $161 million in additional funds.

  • Livestock Feed Assistance Program (LAP) — $500 million for payments to producers for losses suffered in 2001 and 2002.