Washington — Frustrated that congressional negotiators have not hammered out a farm bill, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., proposed Thursday to extend the current law, but with a boost in payments.
With a House-Senate conference committee unlikely to act until April, Roberts said time has run out to apply new farm policies for spring planting decisions.
"Even if new farm legislation is passed shortly after Congress returns from the Easter recess, it would be too late to implement before late summer," Roberts said. "That would be devastating for producers who need to know now how to plan for the new year."
Roberts' $7.35 billion farm assistance bill, which would take effect if Congress can't act on the farm bill in time, is designed to guarantee assistance above last year's levels.
Under the bill, market-loss payments going to wheat growers would be 58.8 cents a bushel, while corn growers would get 33.4 cents a bushel and cotton growers would get 7.33 cents a pound.
The measure would provide $466 million for direct payments to oilseed producers, which would average about 14 cents a bushel.
Leaders of the conference committee announced agreement on a broad framework Tuesday, saying they will be able to speed negotiations to finish a compromise by the second week in April. The deal would boost subsidies for grain, cotton and other crops by 70 percent, and increase spending on conservation programs by 80 percent.
The Kansas Republican blamed the delay on the Senate, where majority Democrats hold control. They passed "a seriously flawed, partisan bill," Roberts said, "that slowed the process and delayed much-needed assistance from reaching producers."
Senate leaders also kept Roberts off the conference committee, though he was an architect of the last farm bill, which ushered in market-oriented reforms in 1996.
Kansas GOP Rep. Jerry Moran, named by House leaders to the panel, said Thursday: "We hope that the conference committee can complete its work in a timely manner so that we can have a bill ready in time for the 2002 crops.