Susan Bright is a large, comfortable woman who has a husband, three children, one tractor and a disposition as sunny and forthright as her name. She has an opinion about almost everything and, unlike a lot of farmers, she is not shy about expressing it.

"I don't know how many times I've been told that 'bigger is better and more efficient,' " she said one day last week. "Who says? If we farmed the way the corporations farmed, we'd pollute the whole country in a matter of years. And they say I'm emotional. Hell, yes, I'm emotional. We're talking about people here, and the survival of the planet."

Bright, 44, is vice president of the National Family Farm Coalition, an umbrella lobbying group representing 40 small farmer organizations in more than 30 states.

She lives and farms in Centerville, Ind., which was near the demographic center of the country a couple of censuses ago, and travels to Washington every four to six weeks to talk to legislators and congressional aides writing the 1990 farm bill, which will regulate U.S. agriculture for the next five years.

She and the National Family Farm Coalition argue for higher price supports and a "supply management program" to control crop size throughout the country. Less corn or beans or wheat or barley means higher prices and a bigger income for farmers.

But her populist philosophy is out of step with an era of declining farm subsidies, freer markets and less government intrusion that is replacing the once heavy hand of Uncle Sam with the invisible hand of Adam Smith.

In this era of less, Susan Bright wants more -- government, subsidies, protection. In her judgment, the new farm bill has almost nothing to offer the little guy.

But there isn't a lot she can do, for she is shoveling against the tide and she knows it: "We can't seem to get our message across."

One recent day, she and other coalition officers had an appointment with Rep. Jim Jontz (D-Ind.), who has tried, unsuccessfully, to promote the populist cause in the House Agriculture Committee.

He is 38, a young-looking man with a thick shock of brown hair and a rumpled suit that looks as if it has seen too many hours of farm bill debate. He is deferential and attentive, but fully aware of his visitors' interests and that he cannot satisfy them.

"I'd hoped the committee would send a bill to the floor {of the House}, which would have been better for producers, that would have increased farm benefits," he said. "Unfortunately, my view was not the majority view of the committee. Others more experienced than I felt that if we took a bill to the floor that was even slightly over budget, we risked losing even more."

This has been the Agriculture Committee's lament for most of the year. But more disquieting, from Susan Bright's viewpoint, is the growing perception that today's farmer is a fat cat capable of spending a fortune on fertilizers and equipment while reaping a second fortune in government stipends.

None of this makes sense to Susan Bright. To her, farmers are either bankrupt or up to their necks in debt, living on income tax rebates, depreciation allowances, income supports from farm subsidies and town jobs, if they can find them.

"We're fortunate where we live because my husband and I both have outside jobs, but a lot of people don't live close enough to a town," Bright said. "Most of us are living from hand to mouth."

Bright learned about hand-to-mouth in the early 1980s after the family's hog-breeding farm burned down. By the time the Brights rebuilt, hog prices had fallen from almost $60 per hundredweight to $29. At the same time, interest rates had shot up from 8 to 18 percent and fuel prices soared.

The Brights borrowed money to keep going, then borrowed more. They missed a tractor payment and went bankrupt. "I felt dirty," Bright said. "I've been covered in dirt and manure I don't know how many times, but when that happened, I just really felt dirty."

After bankruptcy, the Brights continued to look for lenders and talk to bankers. "I remember the day we were talking to a lender and I asked what rights we had in all this," Bright said. " 'Rights?' he asked. 'You're a broke farmer, you don't have any rights.' Right then something clicked in my mind."

The Brights became active in the Farm Aid movement. Susan was an effective lobbyist because she was willing to talk about her family's difficulties.

In 1988, she successfully lobbied the Indiana legislature for programs to mediate farm debts and to counsel farmers in financial trouble. This year, she was the host farmer at the Farm Aid IV concert in Indianapolis, and spoke at Earth Day celebrations in Los Angeles.

She said she believes family farmers are kinder to the environment, more respectful of the land and able to make a good living and produce "all the food we need" as long as they get a proper hand from the government.

"We always hear 'this is a business, this is a business, this isn't a way of life,' " Bright said. "Exactly. We don't want to be helped because we're nice guys. It's a business deal. Because we like what we do, we pay extra attention to our little corner. It makes us the most efficient business people in the world."

But business is still not very good. Last year, the Brights' adjusted gross income was $107,000, including $63,000 in farm revenue, $11,000 in farm subsidies and more than $33,000 from outside jobs. But the farm lost $27,000 over the year and, with living expenses, the family had negative earnings.