President Carter overruled Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland yesterday and told Congress he opposes a major increase in federal farm price supports and farmer subsidies.
Even so, his proposal could increase federal farm outlays anywhere from $800 million to $1 billion next fiscal year.
Both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee want more, however, and Sen. Henry L. Ballmon (R-Okia) told farmers "not to panic," because the Carter recommendations are "not going to pass"
The committee is at work on an extension of the basic federal farm status, which will expire this fall.
Bergland sketched out the President's proposal yesterday, but added under questioning as he did so, "What I'm doing today is not what I'd recommend privately if I were a private citizen."
The former Minnesota congressman had recommended to the President higher price supports and income guarantees, particularly for wheat farmers. But Chairman Charles L. Scheltze of the Council of Economic Advisers argued in a session before Carter on Tuesday that present supports are generally high enough, and Schultze prevailed.
Committee members reacted predictably, without regard for party. Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D) called the President's proposals "totally unacceptable". Sen Bob Dole (R-Kan.) sid "if this had been submitted by (former Republican Agriculture Secretary) Earl Butz, he would have needed a bodyguard to get saftey off Capital Hill."
Dole who was his party's vice presidential candidate last fall, also claimed the proposals were "a total contradiction of every agricultural policy pronounced" Carter made during the campaign.
Bergland earlier this week with Carter's approval incredited federal milk price supports and payments to milk producers substantially. That was separate from yesterday proposals.
The farm bill is a long and immensely complicated piece of legislation. In addition to income and price supports, it covers such subjects as Food for Peace, under which the government gives surplus food to foreign countries or sells it at) concessional prices, and food stamps, one of the government's largest welfare programs.
The administration's food stamp recommendations will not be ready until next week. Yesterday the administration recommend several changes in Food for Peace, including a relaxation of the rules under which three-fourth of the food given away must go to the world's poorest countries.
Carter proposed that so-called target price next year for wheat and corn be $2.60 and $1.75 a bushel. That is only pennies higher than they would be under a simple extension of present law, without any augmentation. By contrast, Dole and Agriculture Committee Chairman Herman E. Talmadge, (D-Ga.) have introduced a bill under which the target prices would be $2.91 for wheat and $2.28 for corn.
These target prices are the mechanism that puts a federal floor under falls below the target price, the government pays the farmer the difference.
Bergland, a former wheat farmer himself, proposed to the White House a target price of about $2.85 for wheat, on grounds that wheat farmers are unusually squeezed between depressed market prices and increading costs. This is the main item on which he was overruled.
Carter also proposed so-called loan rates for wheat and corn of $2.25 and $2 a bushel. These are prices at which wheat and corn producers can borrow from the government on their crops if market prices are low. The crops are then put in storage for a fixed period now generally a year. The farmers then can choose either to redeem their crops and sell them if the market price is favorable, or leave them with the government and keep the loan. The loan price thus acts as a kind of minimum market price, and wheat farmers would like to see the minimum higher than $2.25.