The overall impact from the letter California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer wrote modifying their stand on payment limitations will become fully evident as the Senate and House conference committee continue to hammer out a new federal farm bill.

However, for California cotton and rice growers, Feinstein and Boxer's modification of their positions on the controversial Dorgan-Grassley payment limitation amendment was profound and not soon forgotten.

“All California cotton growers owe a debt of gratitude to Calcot and those producers who sat down with Sen. Feinstein and laid out the facts of how the Dorgan/Grassley amendment would impact them individually,” said California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association President Earl Williams.

Calcot President Tom Smith; board chairman Bruce Heiden of Arizona; vice chairmen Fred Starrh and Charlie Fanucchi, both of Kern County and Tranquility, Calif., producer and former Calcot chairman John Pucheu met with Feinstein for an hour.

Producers grilled

The meeting was to last only 30 minutes, but Feinstein grilled the producers on their individual operations, asking very specific questions about how much money each made and other detailed questions about their operations.

The Calcot delegation was involved in 16 meetings during its two-day visit to Washington, but Smith said the one with Feinstein was the “most significant. The meeting lasted over an hour and included some very pointed questions and some very frank answers about the personal farming operations of four board officers of Calcot.”

Based on those answers, Feinstein limited her support of the Dorgan/Grassley amendment to only provisions that would deny loans and payments to producers if adjusted gross income of owner or operator for the previous three tax years attributable to farming exceeded $2.5 million.

“This has become known at the millionaires' amendment and would not impact very many growers who earn their income from farming,” added Smith.

Feinstein asked Boxer to sign the joint letter and the junior senator agreed. Once the Calcot delegation saw the Feinstein/Boxer letter, even they were surprised by its “intensity of conviction.”

In their letter to Republicans Tom Harkins, Senate Ag Committee chair, and Richard Lugar, ranking member of the Senate ag committee, the two California senators said, “We are concerned about the impact payment limitations will have on family farmers in California and respectfully request that you recede to the House provisions where the Senate language hurts California.

Eliminate safety net

Noting that the Senate's $275,000 limit will “hit rice and cotton farmers first and would hit them the hardest,” they also wrote that restricting the used of commodity certificates eliminates a farmers' safety net.

“We should not deny essential financial assistance to commercial-sized farming operations in California when prices are extraordinarily low, while farmers in other regions of the country receive assistance on every bushel,” the senators wrote.

“Large cotton and rice farms in California are family farms which should continue to receive payments, and not be discriminated against because of their size.

“These are not millionaires, but hard working family farmers,” they said.

Williams said the Boxer-Feinstein position likely would have a significant impact across the Senate. “These are respected members of the Senate and as such, senators from other parts of the country would likely seek their council on this issue. The significance of the Feinstein-Boxer letter will extend well beyond the borders of California,” said Williams.

Smith said the significance of the Feinstein-Boxer clarification letter cannot be understated because both voted for Dorgan/Grassley payment limited amendment.

“The letter was magnanimous and much appreciated by California cotton farmers,” said Williams. “Calcot is to be commended for its valiant efforts on behalf of all California cotton producers.”

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com