Reports out of Washington are saying that Daschle did attend Tuesday’s closed-door negotiating session of a select group of committee members after Southern Democratic senators complained that the lack of a new farm bill was threatening their growers’ survival.

Sources said that some hurdles remain following the four-hour Tuesday night session – conferees reportedly are still far apart on the use of generic certificates and other payment limit details. But conference committee watchers were saying a level of optimism has re-surfaced for the first time in several days

The Tuesday morning meeting between Daschle and the six senators was mostly cordial, but Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., who helped arrange the meeting, said the senators believe they made their point.

“Sen. Daschle understands that the time is now for a farm bill, and he understands that our farmers are in dire straits,” Lincoln said. “Farmers in the southern states have already begun their prime planting season, and our farmers must have a policy they can depend on.”

The group of senators, who also included Zell Miller and Max Cleland of Georgia, John Breaux and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Jean Carnahan of Missouri, stressed that the Grassley amendment would impact Southern producers differently than those in the Midwest.

“There’s no reason Southern farmers should be penalized just because we’re more suited for growing rice and cotton and other capital-intensive crops,” Lincoln told reporters following the meeting. She noted that it can cost $550 to $650 to plant an acre of rice compared to $130 for an acre of barley.

The senators told Daschle that while farmers in Iowa and South Dakota may have the luxury of waiting on a farm bill, growers in the South and Far West are already planting their crops.

Some Southern farmers have borrowed money on the basis of the higher Agricultural Market Transition Act and new counter-cyclical payments proposed in the farm bill now being worked on by the House-Senate conferees.

According to sources, leaders of the conference narrowed the gap on the corn and soybean loan rates during their Tuesday night working session.

With Daschle sitting in, Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., reportedly proposed a corn loan rate of $1.98 per bushel. That was 1 cent higher than the $1.97 per bushel that negotiators had agreed to last week before Daschle reportedly nixed that deal.

Harkin and Conrad subsequently countered with a proposed loan rate for corn of $2.02 and for soybeans of $5.04 per bushel. There was no immediate word on whether House conferees had accepted the Senate offer on corn, which is 7 cents per bushel higher than the rate in the House-passed farm bill.

Negotiators also reportedly have been unable to resolve their substantial differences on payment limits with senate Democrats refusing to allow the use of generic certificates for cotton, rice and soybeans in the new law. Senate conferees also appear to be adamant about eliminating the three-entity rule.

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