Monday, October 08, 2007

When Is a Farmer a Farmer--II

Dan Owens of the Center for Rural Affairs commented on the previous post with this title. He pointed out the Dorgan-Grassley bill which changes payment limitation provisions to require 1000 hours of labor. The comment triggered a sad chain of events:

  1. First I remembered the tobacco legislation in the 1980's. The papers had found Sen. Helms (or his wife) had tobacco allotments which they were leasing out (something like that). And of course there was controversy over the government supporting tobacco, particularly when the Surgeon General was so against it. So the law was changed--first to the "no net cost" provision (allowing the tobacco people to claim the program didn't cost the government; second to require Sen. Helms to sell his allotments by requiring him to be actively engaged in tobacco farming. So I thought: all I have to do is go back and find the rules. Well, it took a while but it seems about all they did was to require the farmer to share in the risk of production of the tobacco. That's a let-down, because, at least in theory, that's always been part of the definition of a "farmer" for the wheat, feed grain, cotton, and rice programs. (Perhaps less so since 1996, because you no longer have to grow the crop to get direct payments.)
  2. Second I looked up the bill Owens [update--corrected] had mentioned. In the good old days, when I was on top of my game, I could assimilate such a bill quickly, find the problematic areas where decisions were needed, and identify the software to support implementation. But those days are gone. I've no idea whether, as the good Senators claim in this piece, lawyers would be put out of business or not. I tend to doubt it, but who knows. And do I care? Not as much as I used to. That's probably a measure of how much closer to the grave I am now than 20 years ago. (As I say, a sad chain.)
I do wish they had thrown in a "circuit breaker". What happened in the 1986 farm bill was that everyone was required to file a farm plan. That overwhelmed the county offices with paper, generally p***ed off the farmers, and did no good for anyone. Implementing Dorgan/Grassley would at a minimum require new language in the existing (CCC-502?) forms for farmers to certify. Giving the Secretary discretion to phase in the new forms would greatly help the county offices. I.e., require them for any changes of operation, plus the producers on the largest farms in the county (top 10 percent) or something similar.

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