THIRTY-ONE THOUSAND bushels of soybeans you claim are yours are locked in a grain elevator that has gone bankrupt. Usually you would go into court with the warehouse receipt. But Wayne Cryts, a Puxico, Mo., farmer, had already pledged his warehouse receipts to the Commodity Credit Corp. as collateral on loans that were called an elevator bankruptcy case dragged on. So Mr. Cryts broke into the elevator, seized 31,000 bushels of soybeans, sold them for $280,000 and refused to pay the proceeds over to the bankruptcy court. As a result, he in now in jail for contempt.
His congressman, Bill Emerson (R-Mo.), says, "Wayne Cryts has made tremendous sacrifices to bring a grave injustice to our attention." Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) secured Mr. Cryts' freedom for 70 hours so that he could testify before a Senate sub-committee in order to build support for a Doe bill on grain elevator bankruptcies, and to put pressure on House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter Rodino (D-N.J.) who, with Rep. Caldwell Butler (R-Va.), supports another bill to change the bankruptcy laws.
The Dole bill would make three changes in current law. It would require proceeds from grain in bankrupt elevators to be distributed on a strict timetable within four months. It would give preference to those who hold warehouse receipts over lenders who have taken grain in the elevators as collateral. And farmers who have hold grain to elevators but have not received payment at the time of bankruptcy would be given a lien on grain assets left after those with ware house receipts are paid.
As for the House bill, it sets no specific timetable, but requires the bankruptcy court to establish one, on the theory that these matter can become to tangled that in practice no single limit can be imposed. House bill backers say the second Dole provision is unnecessary, because holders of warehouse receipts already have a preferance. The House bill does not give a lien to unpaid farmers, for fear that such a device would cst a cloud over warehouse receipts and wreak havoc in commodities markets.
One can feel sympathy for the farmer whose whole year's production is tied up in a bankrupt grain elevator. It is unfortunate, too, that it took a dramatic illegal act to prompt serious consideration of this issue. Of the two approaches to it, it seems to us that while Sen. Dole's bill sounds attractive, the arguments for the House bill are weightier. There is good reason for caution in revising the Bankruptcy Act, which has been rewritten only aat 40year intervals, 1898, 1938, and 1978. Bankruptcy laws should be predictable for both creditors and debtors. By and large the system of grain storage and marketing has served the country well.