In another venue, it might have been considered high drama — the House Agriculture Committee chairman debating a farm policy “expert” from the Washington Post. Instead, Rep. Collin Peterson and Dan Morgan, author of a series of articles critical of the 2002 farm bill, were only talking during a telephone conference call.

Still, the conversation took on the feel of a debate as Peterson tried to explain the role payment limits played in a House subcommittee's vote to extend the 2002 farm bill commodity title. Without Southern support, he said, “You can't pass a farm bill, and Southerners obviously weren't willing to go where the subcommittee started out.”

Morgan asked if those words didn't contradict what the chairman had said in previous conference calls about the committee's inability to pass a farm bill without making changes to payment limits. Peterson asked if Morgan had been listening to his earlier comments about cotton and rice farmers “getting beat up” over payment limits.

“If we would have a real debate about certificates, and not a bogus debate among people who don't even know how this impacts folks in the real world, that would be one thing,” he said. “I haven't seen that kind of debate, and I'm not too optimistic we will ever have one.”

Peterson said he's concluded that those fanning the payment limit controversy will never be satisfied with anything short of having agriculture collapse. “Then they'd blame somebody else.”

Citing $300,000 to $400,000 cotton pickers that won't pick corn and growers' massive investments in gins, Peterson said, “You can't just walk in there and cut them off and expect them to survive. There has to be a transition.”

Morgan noted Southern resistance to direct attribution of so-called “pass-through” money. “That's commodity certificates, but certificate money isn't really covered by the payment limits so I don't understand why they're up in arms.”

But the Grassley-Dorgan bill would eliminate certificates, Peterson said, and place a “hard cap of the first $150,000 in loan deficiency payments.” Peterson said he believed Southern members had not had time to react to the direct attribution language in the subcommittee's commodity title discussion draft.

“As long as cotton producers have a 52-cent loan, they're going to be able to produce it for 52 cents,” Morgan stated. However, few U.S. growers produce cotton for as low as 52 cents per pound.

“What does the producer do if the market drops to 30 cents?” asked Peterson.

Morgan replied, “The government would …” when Peterson interjected, “Yes, he would forfeit to the government. The farmer gets 50 cents, and we wind up with the cotton. What people don't understand is, certificates allow for it to be marketed.”

“If we put 40 million bales of cotton in storage, is that the farmer's fault? No, he's not the one that gave this market away or left and went to China.”