Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Finally, Farm Bills near Passage Big Changes in Store for System of Subsidies

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Finally, Farm Bills near Passage Big Changes in Store for System of Subsidies

Article excerpt

LIKE A BEAT-UP TRACTOR plowing a muddy field, a farm bill is rolling slowly but relentlessly through Congress, picking up support from members who are under pressure to act before the spring planting season begins.

The men and women who grow crops on the nearly 200,000 farms in

Missouri and Illinois are watching nervously to see how much they can expect in government payments this year and for the short-term future. Their need for answers to make planting decisions has prompted even reluctant members of Congress to scramble aboard.

The Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would drastically change the federal farm program by establishing a series of fixed, declining payments regardless of the market price farmers get for their crops. The House is scheduled to vote on a similar proposal this month; President Bill Clinton has not said whether he will sign either version.

The issue has played a role in presidential politics as well. Republicans in Iowa will select delegates to the national convention M onday, and candidates campaigning there have been trying to use the farm bill - or the lack of one - to their advantage.

In Illinois, Rep. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., campaigning for the Senate this week, said farmers in the state are irritated by the delay in passing legislation.

"They're very upset that this farm bill has taken so long and is being shoved at them on a take-it-or-leave-it basis," Durbin said Thursday. He said most farmers he talked to support the current proposals, although many are doing so out of desperation.

"They're afraid if they don't buy this approach, they won't get any farm bill," he said.

One farmer who likes the new proposals is Ryland Utlaut, a corn grower from Great Pass, in west-central Missouri. Utlaut, who was in Washington this week to lobby for the bill as a representative of the Corn Growers' Association, said he liked the thought of getting a fixed payment without the government requiring what to plant or when. The tradeoff is that farmers would not get any extra help when prices are low.

"We're willing to take this risk," he said. "It's going to behoove the farmer to become a better manager of his assets. We're excited about being able to plan for the marketplace. I think maybe we'll be better for it."

One of those he talked to was Sen. Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., a strong supporter of the bill. In a speech before the vote, Bond said the bill represented "the opportunity farmers in my state have been looking for."

"They want to move away from farming for the mailbox to farming for the marketplace," Bond said. "Farmers want and deserve predictability . . . from a known stream of payments."

Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., and Sens. Paul Simon and Carol Moseley-Braun, both D-Ill., also voted for the bill.

Under the proposal, the overall amount of taxpayer subsidies for farmers would not change much for the first couple of years but would be reduced by $10 or more an acre by 2002. …

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