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Congress To Release Farm Payments

July 29, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ With farm losses mounting in the South and Midwest, Senate Republican leaders cleared the way Wednesday for action this week on legislation releasing 1999 farm payments to producers this fall.

The bill, introduced last week, will be offered for unanimous approval in the Senate before this weekend, when senators leave on a month-long recess. No opposition is likely, said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. If the House approves the bill next week, as expected, it would then go to President Clinton for his signature.

``It would be only a first step but a very important first step addressing low grain and livestock prices,″ Grassley said.

Farmers could still put off getting their 1999 payments until next year if they don’t want the cash now. The payments, which are guaranteed through 2002 under the 1996 farm law, will total $5.6 billion next year.

Earlier this month, the Senate approved $500 million in cash assistance to producers who have suffered repeated crop failures, and House leaders immediately indicated tentative support for that plan. But with drought gripping the South and farmers in the northern Plains suffering from sagging grain prices and crop disease, lawmakers have been under pressure to do still more.

The Senate rejected a $1.6 billion plan by Democrats to boost prices by expanding crop marketing loans. Republicans said the plan was too expensive and could end up depressing crop prices further by encouraging overproduction.

Senate Democrats, who held an unofficial hearing Wednesday on the downturn in the farm economy, promised to keep pressing for expanding the loan program by lifting a cap on loan rates and extending the life of the loans.

``We have made some progress, but our fight is far from over,″ said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

``We’re going to be back tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow until we get something done to turn this around,″ said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

Nicholas Nemec, a wheat and livestock producer from Holabird, S.D., told the Democratic lawmakers that he barely had enough money to pay his $3,000 health-insurance premium this year and had to sell off cattle feed and one of his bulls to meet other expenses. Wheat is selling for less than $2 a bushel, half what it was worth two years ago.

``I don’t want ... a handout,″ said Nemec, his voice breaking. ``All I want is a chance to sell my crops at a reasonable price in a fair and open marketplace.″

Deb Lundgren of Kulm, N.D., said her farm made $10,288 last year, slightly less than her grandfather’s income from the same land 40 years ago. The farm has had crops damaged by disease in three of the past five years, and a June hailstorm destroyed much of this year’s production. She’s considering taking a job at a local pizza restaurant.

``The sad reality is I can make more money rolling the dough than I can investing to grow the ingredients,″ she said.

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