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Published March 27, 2012, 02:00 AM

New proposal to cap farm payments

A new proposal to place a hard cap on farm payments to individual farmers has the strong endorsement of the president of one of North Dakota’s two largest farm groups. The president of the other farm group said “reasonable limits” are needed, although it’s difficult to say exactly what they should be.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

A new proposal to place a hard cap on farm payments to individual farmers has the strong endorsement of the president of one of North Dakota’s two largest farm groups.

The president of the other farm group said “reasonable limits” are needed, although it’s difficult to say exactly what they should be.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Wednesday introduced legislation that would limit farm payments to $250,000 per married couple and close loopholes that allow nonfarmers to qualify for federal farm payments.

“We strongly support this legislation,” Woody Barth, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union and a Flasher, N.D., farmer and rancher, told Agweek.

His counterpart at the North Dakota Farm Bureau, Doyle Johannes, an Underwood, N.D., farmer, said, “We need to have reasonable limits” on farm payments.

Johannes told Agweek that he hadn’t seen details of the proposed legislation and that his initial response reflects his own views, not necessarily those of his organization.

He noted that efforts in the past to limit payments to individual farmers have been resisted by big rice and cotton farming operations.

Barth said the new legislation from Grassley and Johnson has a better chance of passing because of pressure to cut federal spending.

The North Dakota Farmers Union has a long history of supporting payment limitations, Barth said.

In a prepared statement from Johnson’s office, Johnson and Grassley both said that the farm bill should better target payments to benefit small- and mid-sized farmers.

The U.S. farm bill, the federal government’s main food and agricultural policy tool, expires at the end of the year and must be renewed. A number of changes could be made to the existing farm bill, including the elimination of direct farm payments.

According to the information from Johnson’s office:

The new Grassley-Johnson legislation would set a hard cap on marketing loan gains of $75,000, or $150,000 per couple. The remainder of the payment limit would be a cap on the total amount a farmer can receive in safety net payments in general.

Also, the bill would set “a measurable standard for someone to qualify as actively engaged in farming by providing management for the operation,” according to Johnson’s office.

The bill provides an exception where there is only one manager of the farm, which should help the U.S. Department of Agriculture administer the standard, according to Johnson’s office.

Agweek is owned by Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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