U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, met with a number of officers and directors of the Kansas Association of wheat Growers to solicit their comments and support for a number of issues to be discussed in the Congress, in the near future.
He met with the industry leaders in their state office, in Manhattan.
Senator Roberts said he sees three big things on the Congressional horizon, which must be dealt with for the health of U.S. and Kansas farms, including trade relations with China, crop insurance reform and steps to take since market conditions have not improved.
The Kansas senator said that the trade status with China must be normalized, but the agreements with China must include fertilizer.
He said there remains serious disagreements between himself and Sen. Bob Kerry of Nebraska on one side, and Senator Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, on the other. The two Plains senators have introduced the Roberts-Kerry crop insurance reform measure in the Senate, while Senator Lugar has delayed allowing hearings on the measure. Lugar, meanwhile, has his own legislative plan that would provide direct payments to farmers for a two-year period, but no insurance plan. Lugar has explained in his state, crop insurance has not been needed.
Senator Roberts told the KAWG leaders that steps needed to be taken to help farmers in 2000, since the market situation has not improved. He acknowledged that the Clinton Administration has presented a plan for this purpose, but, Roberts said, "It would help the lobby-farmers and the big guys, but there was nothing for farmers." He said the answer to the problem, first of all, was to put the plan in the federal budget and be honest about it. The senator said the plan, as he sees it, should include a 100% Agricultural Marketing Transition Act payment, as well as assistance for the dairy industry and specialty and other crops.
Senator Roberts agreed with KAWG President Dean Stoskopf that a counter-cyclical plan needs to be developed, and that he will keep working on it. Roberts said he also likes the concept of revenue insurance.
Senator Roberts also raised the issue of the concerns about concentration and mergers in the agriculture industry, and the legislation that various states are considering. Roberts said, in his research on the issue, the Department of Justice and the Department of Agriculture have the statutory authority to make decisions on these matters and they needed to start doing it. He expressed concern about the hodge-podge of laws that would result from the states trying to legislate answers to these questions.
A question brought up by KAWG Vice President John Thaemert involved the ability to utilize haying and grazing of wheat, without losing the loan deficiency payment benefits, with a large number of farmers tentatively planning to utilize wheat for livestock forage.
Senator Roberts said, with this being a major election year, Congressional leadership wants to get the budgetary legislation handled prior to the recesses for political conventions. After the conventions, then Congress and the Administration will be into election-mode, with very little legislative momentum.
The Kansas Association of wheat Growers represents nearly 3,000 members, who have joined forces under the common goal of maximizing members' profitability.