• It was not, however, regionally inclusive as all four senators on the committee from the South — Arkansas’ John Boozman, Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell and Mississippi’s Thad Cochran — voted nay.
Peanuts and rice
The treatment of rice and peanuts in the proposed legislation has been a huge peg for southern lawmakers to hang their opposition upon.
“Fairness is important,” Boozman said in the markup. “The result of the bill we have now is we’ve picked winners and losers. … The reality of that is it will make it more difficult as we go to the floor. I think it will make it much more difficult as we deal with the House.”
Stabenow, who had been softly chided during the markup, conceded the point to a degree. “We know there’s more work to do. … By proceeding with the STAX program (Stacked Income Protection Plan for cotton) and some other areas, we’ve made steps. Not as far as we need to.”
(For more on STAX, click here).
The committee, said Stabenow, has worked “very, very hard. And there’s more to do. But we do have the STAX program for cotton. Within the new Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program, we have specific reference points, prices, for rice and peanuts (set for rice at $13 per hundredweight with a minimum reference price for peanuts at $530 per ton). And we’ve put in place new crop insurance options – we know they aren’t fully developed.”
Near the end of the markup, in lieu of offering several amendments, Chambliss preferred to detail his opposition to several things in the proposed legislation. First up: payment limits and peanuts.
(For more on a House hearing involving peanuts, clickhere.
“As I understand it, under the mark, the limit now is at $50,000. Economists at the University of Georgia have looked at this. With the change that’s being made, the way the mark is written in respect to peanuts, I doubt there will ever be a peanut farmer that will qualify up to the level of $50,000. Peanuts are a high-cost commodity and … (have) capital requirements in terms of machinery. You have to have a special digger to dig them and a harvester to harvest them. That’s unlike what you can do with changing heads (on harvesters) for soybeans and corn.
“We’ve experienced wide swings in crop prices because we’re not a traded commodity. … That can lead to large payments during low commodity price years under the current program. Given the concentration of buyers of peanuts and the semi-perishability of peanuts … all of these issues come into play.”
Rice, Chambliss said, has some similar issues. “It’s hard to drown out rice because it grows in water. Therefore, crop insurance with rice works in an entirely different way from … corn or even cotton and peanuts.”
Chambliss predicted that if the House takes up the bill “at all” it will be “more in the direction of what (senators from the South) have proposed … with respect to both peanuts and rice.”
Prior to casting his “no” vote, Sen. Cochran said “on the floor of the Senate, I think we’ll have to take advantage of opportunities to offer amendments that may have a chance of strengthening the bill, particularly as it relates to southern interests. Specifically, cotton, rice and peanuts deserve more of a break than they’re getting in this bill in this committee. I regret that. … In the meantime, I can’t support the bill.”