Farmers Await Action On Less Restrictive Farm Bill

October 14, 1990|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

Every week, county farmer Melvin Baile Jr. reads stacks of newsletters, newspapers and magazines to try to keep abreast of progress on the 1990 Farm Bill and other industry issues.

He knows what Congress does in Washington could affect his farming practices in Medford.

These days, he and other farmers who receive federal subsidies and cost-sharing money are waiting for Congress to settle on the 1990 Farm Bill.

"I'm anxiously awaiting it," said Baile, 29, who farms about 600 acres with his father.

Representatives of the House and Senate are working now to meld their two versions of the bill, which are similar, into one. The measure won't be finalized until Congress settles on a budget and determines how much money is available for agricultural programs.

Elizabeth A. Schaeffer, county executive director for the U.S.

Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, said the bill is expected to allow farmers who want to participate in federal programs more flexibility.

Schaeffer's office in Westminster is responsible for allocating federal money to county farmers. Last year, farmers here received about $2 million in cost-sharing money to implement conservation measures and for subsidies that help keep grain production in line with demand.

The 1990 Farm Bill is expected to ease restrictions on the type and quantity of crops farmers may plant and still qualify for federal money, Schaeffer said. This should help farmers meet the demands of the marketplace, she said.

Baile said he's happy to see increased flexibility, but is concerned about some environmental provisions in the bill.

Environmentalists, who have seen their clout increase in Washington in recent years, succeeded in getting provisions concerning wetlands preservation, pesticide regulation and organic foods standards included in versions of the bill.

"The Farm Bill will be much more environmentally conscious than the 1985 Farm Bill," Baile said. "I'm apprehensive about it, but it probably needs to be done. Those things need to be addressed."

Baile said he hopes any new environmental restrictions on farmers will be accompanied by cost-sharing money to help them pay for more equipment and record-keeping that might be required.

Schaeffer said the farm bill also is expected to include more money for conservation measures to improve water quality, plant trees and prevent soil erosion. In the past, Carroll farmers have had a high participation rate in these programs, she said.

Norman Astle, assistant director of public affairs for the Maryland Farm Bureau, said bureau members hope a provision to fund crop insurance, which is in the Senate measure but not the House version, is in the final bill.

Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-6th, is sponsoring a provision of the Farm Bill regarding dairy prices, her aide Beau Wright said.

The measure would institute a new five-year price-support system for milk that would better reflect the market value of milk and milk components, he said.

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