Rice Farming

 - From the Editor -

The Ides of March

By Carroll Smith

While writing the cover story “March 15: The Critical Date,” I couldn’t figure out why that particular day sounded so familiar. Then it occurred to me that March 15 is the Ides of March.

In the ancient Roman calendar, the term “ides” was used for the 15th day of March, May, July and October, and the 13th day of the other eight months. At the time, it was nothing more than a calendar term used to mark lunar events, such as the appearance of a full moon.

However, in 44 B.C., March 15 became known as a day of infamy when Julius Caesar was assassinated. Although a physic had implored him to “Beware the Ides of March,” the Roman ignored the warning and walked right into the conspirators’ trap.

In modern times, the term typically is used as a metaphor for impending doom and has been referenced in numerous songs, films, television shows, plays and, yes, even video games.

In today’s agricultural/political world, March 15 is once again a significant date. It marks the end of the three-month extension of the 2002 Farm Bill. Between now and then, the Conference Committee will take a look at both the House and Senate bills and try to negotiate a final compromise bill for the President to sign.

However, President Bush has promised to veto the bill, and at this point in time, Congress does not appear to have the number of votes needed to override a veto. If this scenario plays out, USDA will have to implement the 1949 Agricultural Act. Under this permanent farm law, support prices for U.S. crops are extremely high, but there are no “direct” payments like the ones defined in the current farm law.

Although the 1949 Agricultural Act would probably be workable for many U.S. farmers, most would rather see a finalized 2008 Farm Bill to give them “a long-term economic and policy foundation on which to base their decisions.” (Page 7 – Coalition’s Farm Bill Conference Beneficial Interest Letter – Jan. 18, 2008). For budget reasons, there is not much interest in further extending the 2002 Farm Bill.

At the end of the next few weeks, farmers will find out what they have to work with. After March 15 comes and goes, we potentially could have either another extension of the 2002 Farm Bill, the 1949 Agricultural Act or a 2008 Farm Bill.

Until then, we can only wait for the Conference report and the President’s reaction to it or try gazing into our own crystal balls to see what this year’s Ides of March will bring to the U.S. agriculture sector.