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July 06, 2000   Email to Friend 

July 06, 2000

Alabama peanut producers are getting some help in the unexpected form of a military construction bill thanks to action taken by Congress just before it recessed for the summer June 30.

An amendment to the military bill means farmers from Alabama, Georgia and Florida get a reprieve from paying back the government for losses sustained on last year's peanut surplus. The legislation passed the U.S. House June 29 and the U.S. Senate on June 30.

"What it really means is $8.5 million in the pockets of Alabama farmers," said Randy Griggs, director of the Federation's Peanut Division. The news was especially important to Southern farmers who are facing one of the worst droughts in recent history, he added.

"The Alabama Peanut Producers Association has made assessment relief a priority since it was apparent that there would be a loss from last year's crop," Griggs said. "Without the Alabama Peanut Producers Association and our coordinated efforts with Georgia and Florida through the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, this relief would not have happened. Because the loss was only in the Southeast, other producing areas had little at stake."

The legislative provision originally was inserted in the conference report by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, however it was later dropped in conference along with all other agriculture commodities in the bill. At that point, U.S. Rep. Terry Everett, working with the Republican leadership and other peanut state congressmen, had the language reinserted.

The legislation orders USDA to cover the cost of the assessment which would have been passed on to the growers. Griggs said the cost will be rolled forward and offset by future collections of the 1.1 percent assessment already being levied on marketed peanuts. The amendment also allows peanut producers to market their quota peanuts at $610 per ton, instead of $564 per ton this year.

Griggs credited the strong support of the Alabama congressional delegation as critical in the approval of the peanut assessment relief measure.

Until the amendment was added to the military construction bill, farmers' only hope appeared to be the agriculture appropriations bill which is scheduled to be debated later this summer. While the Senate appropriations bill included help for peanut farmers, the House version didn't and could have meant the elimination of help for peanut farmers in the final spending measure.

Peanut farmers owed the government money for this year's crop because of a massive surplus from the last one. The government, which guarantees farmers of quota peanuts a minimum set cost, had to sell some peanuts below that while still paying the farmers at the agreed-upon rate. Because the peanut program is designed to operate at no net cost to taxpayers, farmers were supposed to incur the debt. Last year, the government dipped into the farmers' emergency relief fund to pay the losses.

"This was very good news for Alabama and Southeast peanut growers who have suffered through successive years of bad weather and cannot afford the unexpectedly high assessment cost," Everett said. "Now that Congress has approved the relief for peanut growers, I am hopeful the president will sign it into law in the coming weeks."

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