Now that the farm bill is almost finished, the Agriculture Department is gearing up to start sending the first checks to farmers in late spring.
Farmers may start signing contracts for the new seven-year government payments 45 days after the farm bill becomes law.
The annual payments will be made in two installments, with the first checks this year likely going out in May, June and July, said Bruce Weber, of the Consolidated Farm Service Agency.
For farmers who are used to getting a portion of their annual subsidy early in the year to pay for spring planting, the wait this time will be unusually long. The old law that governed farm programs expired at the end of 1995.
“Everybody says it’s about time,” said Dave Torgeson, director of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers.
House and Senate negotiators finished work on compromise farm legislation last week. It is now awaiting final House and Senate action. President Clinton has said he would sign it.
The bill ends the traditional way of subsidizing farmers. Farmers used to receive a “deficiency payment” to cover the difference between market prices and a fixed target price set by the government. Under the new law, farmers will receive a fixed but declining payment regardless of prices.
Virtually every producer who has been enrolled in the farm program is expected to sign the seven-year contracts.
“There’s not any incentive at all to drop out,” said Barry Jenkins, a spokesman for the National Association of Wheat Growers.
Many wheat growers will have 35 cents a bushel deducted from their checks to repay unearned subsidies they owe the government from last year. Farmers took the advance subsidies before planting the 1995 crop, but market prices later shot up and producers now must repay the money.
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