Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman says the bulk of the $5.5 billion in farm-relief payments for grain producers should arrive in mailboxes before September 30.

Democratic senators had originally proposed a $7.5 billion bailout plan. However, three obstacles stood in their way: The White House was threatening a veto; the House, which had previously passed a $5.5 billion farm-relief plan, had already adjourned for the August break; and, the Congressional Budget Office had warned that if the farm-aid package was not signed into law during August, Congress would lose the authority to spend the money earmarked for farm aid during this fiscal year.

"We were in a position if we did not take action now, it was very conceivable that the money destined for American farmers would disappear," said Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the Republican leader on the Agriculture Committee. The Senate approved the $5.5 billion House version of the farm-relief package late Friday. Secretary Veneman has said that Bush intends to sign the bill.

This is the fourth straight year that Congress has provided a multibillion-dollar bailout of the farm economy to compensate for low crop prices. Grain and cotton farmers, who receive the bulk of the assistance, will get smaller checks than they saw under last year's bailout. A farmer who got $40,000 in 2000 should receive less than $34,000 this year.

One side note, dairy compact supporters were unable to attach an amendment to the farm-relief bill to extend the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact that expires September 30. Supporters plan to renew their battle after the August recess.

Reuters, Associated Press