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McMorris Leads Way to Amend Payments

by Scott Yates, Staff Writer
Capital Press, February 2, 2007

Goal is to 'fix' the 2002 Farm Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. - While most of the nation's wheat growers are looking forward to the debate on the 2007 Farm Bill, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers is supporting legislation to fix the 2002 Farm Bill.

Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Wash., introduced the "Wheat Countercyclical Payments Enhancement Act of 2006" at the request of WAWG leadership last year, and she is poised to do so again in 2007. If passed, the bill would retroactively funnel more than $100 million to Pacific Northwest wheat growers.

The bill would create a class-specific calculation for countercyclical payments rather than the national average price of wheat. The original bill died in the House Agriculture Committee.

Jerry Snyder, immediate past president of WAWG, is a strong proponent of the legislation. He said the change would transform the 2002 countercyclical payment into an effective safety net.

Others question WAWG's approach, arguing it is not retroactive, but simply backward to focus on fixing legislation that is due to expire in September. During the Domestic Policy Committee meeting at the National Association of Wheat Growers, the WAWG fix wasn't even discussed because no other members would second it.

That's not stopping WAWG. The group plans to bring the issue back up in Tampa, where wheat growers will meet as part of the Commodity Classic the first week in March.

Snyder said the lack of support stems from confusion. He was hoping a Powerpoint presentation WAWG had prepared would address the policy committee's concerns, but without the second, there was no opportunity for discussion.

Ray Buttars, chairman of NAWG's Domestic Policy Committee and an Idaho grower, was hesitant to comment on the issue. He said other states were concerned the proposal would benefit only soft white wheat growers.

"If we improve the formula to benefit soft white wheat, somebody else has to give up something," he said. "That is just the reality. It is going to come from somewhere."

Snyder disagreed. He said retroactively applying the national loan rate by wheat class instead of a national (average) market price would not leave out growers from other states. According to WAWG's figures, over the three-year period in question (2005-2007) Washington would receive $50 million more by calculating the countercyclical payment by class, Oregon $18 million and Idaho $34 million. But North Dakota growers would receive $78 million under the approach, Montana growers $53 million and Kansas growers $109 million.

Gretchen Borck, issues director for WAWG, said she plans to continue to educate other states to the advantages of signing onto the WAWG proposal, but she admitted time is running out. Even if the bill is unsuccessful, she said, a secondary benefit is making it clear to legislators how frayed the safety net for wheat growers is.

"We are not diluting anything. We are educating people why the safety net didn't work," she said, promising to bring the concept forward into the 2007 Farm Bill.

But Daren Coppock, chief executive officer of NAWG, said anytime there are different messages coming from wheat groups, it makes the lobbying effort all that more difficult. He would like to keep the focus on NAWG's 2007 Farm Bill proposal to increase the direct payment to wheat growers to $1.19 and set a target price of $5.29 a bushel.

Scott Yates is based in Spokane.
McMorris Leads Way to Amend Payments
Capital Press, February 2, 2007

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