Attendance at the last farm bill hearing I attended was somewhat lower than for the previous two, but the message was just as clear: don't scrap something that works and costs the government little money.

Well, not everyone is completely on board with extending the current farm bill. Fruit and vegetable folk prefer a more market-oriented approach and livestock producers encourage legislators to consider the laws of action and reaction with any tweaking they might do to encourage biofuel production, or that puts feedgrains prices at artificially high levels.

Wheat growers would like a bit more assistance than they get from the payment schedule set up in the 2002 law.

Farmers and ranchers who testified at each of these hearings encouraged their representatives to fund conservation and research efforts and to assure that agencies maintain enough trained employees to administer programs effectively.

One resounding theme I've heard from farmers at each of these hearings and at every other farm-related event I've attended over the last year is how desperately they need disaster relief.

They wonder why folks in Washington don't understand that the band aide fixes they've offered are woefully inadequate to close the gaping wound left from two years of severe drought, some floods and wildfires.

Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, told panelists and a significant but not standing room only audience recently at Lubbock that he and others are considering a permanent disaster title in any new farm legislation.

Folks thought that's a pretty good idea and it makes sense. Anyone who has been involved in agriculture for more than a week understands that farmers and ranchers face daunting odds every time they plant a seed, stock a pasture or stick a new fruit or nut tree in the ground.

It might not rain for months. It might rain for three straight days. Hail could wipe out newly emerged crops before they get a good start or strip fields ready to harvest. Wildfires can and do sweep across rangeland every year. Hurricanes flood cropland and the winds rip vegetation to shreds along with farm buildings and homes.

There is no fooling Mother Nature.

Some prefer a non-government, insurance-based program, which sounds like a good idea, too, except that most policies currently available either cover too little or cost too much. The expense would be less a factor if farmers, as other businessmen do, set their own prices. They don't and, for the most part, can't just pencil in the additional cost of crop insurance and tell the guy at the grain elevator to bump his price up a few shekels to get to a profitable level.

Farmers at this last in a long series of farm bill hearings agreed that better insurance would be a big help. They discussed the gaps in current programs, leaving coverage for many as much as 35 percent short of usual yield.

They said insurance must be affordable and must provide adequate coverage for it to replace government programs.

Good idea, they said, so make it happen.

Until that occurs, however, they encourage legislators to look out for their interests and the interests of the country by allowing them to stay in business when disaster strikes, as it does, somewhere, every year.

And they encourage elected officials to do something now, not when a new farm bill comes up for debate. If they don't, some won't be around for the next disaster.