Rice farmers will get a little less from the farm bill recently passed by the House of Representatives than they've been getting — but the predictability included in the legislation may make up for some of the loss.
“We didn't get all we needed,” says Paul (Jackie) Loewer, vice chairman of the U.S. Rice Producers Group and a rice farmer from Branch, La. “But we support it. What really troubled us was the conservation aspect that was tied to the Kind Amendment. Some legislators simply don't get it.”
Loewer says his organization, like many others and many individual farmers, has no qualms about adding conservation measures to farm legislation — just not at the expense of commodity programs.
“Without those government payments the past few years, the struggling agricultural economy would be even further down than it is. Conservation is a luxury now.”
He says the Kind Amendment was like “the roof falling in and the government bringing a lawn mower. It's not what we need now. We have more conservation measures in this bill, and conservation funds always go where they are needed most.
“We can still take care of the direst needs. But we can't sacrifice funds from commodities.” Loewer says farmers still must retain the ability to make a profit from their land.
He's a little concerned that action in the Senate may restore some of the conservation measures omitted by the House. “The Senate leans a bit more to conservation,” he says. “And we will support that, if it doesn't come from agricultural support programs.”
Non-traditional asking to be included in farm support complicates matters this year, Loewer says. “Agricultural legislation has evolved into a finely tuned, delicate instrument, developed over several decades,” he says. “We can't wipe that out and maintain stability. Other crops now want to come to the table, and we're taking a finely tuned device and adding another gear to it.
“It gets a little skewed. That aspect of farm legislation is not explained enough.”
He says agriculture consists of three entities: cottage industry, commercial family operations, and corporate farms.
“Both the corporate farm and the cottage industry farm are fringe parts of the agricultural industry, but the bulk of production comes from the family commercial farm, which may be one farmer or several family members.”
Loewer says legislation should support all three entities. “We can't wipe out any segment of agriculture (for government assistance) because of size,” he says. “That is counterproductive.”
He says any legislation should make it possible for “the land to pay me.”
Agricultural legislation, he says, includes a lot of aspects, including conservation, production assistance, research and rural development. “The best thing we can do for rural development is to encourage a viable agricultural economy in rural areas. The farm bill is the cost of a successful agricultural economy.”
Loewer says the farm segment needs a government safety net because of the strong dollar and the need to assure a constant, reliable food supply.
“Government has to step in and hold it up,” he says.
Loewer says program payments for rice in the recently passed bill will be less than in the 1996 law, even with a maximum counter cyclical payment.
“But it's predictable and business people, including our bankers, like predictability.”