Local farmers say reduced farm bill may hurt area

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 5, 2001

VIDALIA, La. – While agriculture experts had hoped that Congress would pass a farm bill containing about $7 billion in assistance for farmers, the bill sent to President Bush Friday contained just $5.5 billion in payments.

And local farmers said Saturday that passage of a bill that will provide lower-than-expected payments to struggling farmers will certainly hurt the Miss-Lou. While an increase in rain after three years of drought stands to increase the quality and yield of this year’s crops, the prices farmers get for such crops still make it almost impossible to make ends meet, they said.

The price of March soybeans was 493 1/4 cents per bushel Friday, up from 482 cents the same time last year.

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But cotton prices have declined sharply, from 58.89 cents to 41.90 cents per pound.

Rice prices dropped from $6.255 to $5.44 per hundredweight during the last year, while corn prices rose from 211 3/4 cents to 243 1/4 cents per bushel. But those prices are still far below what farmers need to make ends meet in a time of rising crop production prices, said Lee Bean, general manager of Angelina Farms in Monterey

&uot;Corn was $1.50 a bushel in the 1960s, and it took a lot less (money) to live in the 1960s than it does now,&uot; Bean said, whose farm contains 8,000 acres of cotton, soybeans, corn, milo and rice.

That makes farmers dependent on government assistance payments to stay in business. In the year 2000 alone, Concordia Parish farmers received more than $9 million in assistance payments. Still, &uot;we’re losing 10 to 15 farmers every year in the parish because they can’t (financially) make it,&uot; Concordia Parish County Agent Glen Daniels said in a recent interview.

Grain and cotton farmers will receive the bulk of the bill’s assistance, but a farmer who got $40,000 in 2000 should receive less than $34,000 this year, according to the Associated Press.

&uot;It will most definitely hurt us,&uot;&160;said Morris Ray Arthur, who farms about 4,100 acres of corn, cotton and milo near Ferriday. &uot;Commodity prices are so cheap that (government payments) are what’s been keeping our heads above water.&uot;

Across the river in Adams County, Bubba Davidson agreed that &uot;without the government payments, most farmers would be out of business. Most everyone this year will have a good yield, it looks like. But prices are terrible.&uot;

But he surmised that by the time payments get to farmers, they will be even lower than current estimates.

&uot;That’s the way it’s been every year,&uot; said Davidson, who farms 5,300 acres of corn, milo and soybeans.

Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom told the Associated Press on Friday that the farm bill will not be enough to help Louisiana farmers at the same level as last year.

”Farmers will get only about 85 percent of what they got last year, and in the majority of the cases that I’m aware of, that’s really not enough to get them paid out at the banks,” Odom said.