(Carlisle, Iowa) Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley Friday proposed a new system of ensuring farmers’ income during down cycles in the grain and livestock markets.

Bradley would have federal farm payments kick in when the price paid for grains and livestock dips below the cost of production. In addition, he would limit the amount of the checks and deny the income support to corporate farms.

Under present law, American farmers are being paid set amounts in what are called “transition payments.” Each year the checks get smaller. Eventually, the federal government will no longer provide such general financial support for farmers, a key provision of the so-called “Freedom to Farm” Act.

“I’ll be honest with you, when I began this journey I didn’t know a lot about agriculture,” Bradley said in a farm policy speech. “In New Jersey, the farms we have are fruits and vegetables, blueberries. I had no sense of what the farm economy was all about and I’ve learned and my teachers have been family farmers.”

About 40 people gathered in a farm field to hear Bradley speak. With his white shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbows and an empty hog barn to his back, Bradley talked of the “rootedness” of the farm that has been owned by the same family for 130 years.

“If we ever lose that, we’re going to lose something that is as deep in America as Thomas Jefferson, because that’s where it all started,” Bradley said. “Being here this afternoon is one of those moments that just reminds me of that rootedness and that longevity and this incredible beauty that’s out here — a productive beauty.”

Bradley also outlined his idea of a “family farm” brand for grains and meats, as well as expansion of conservation programs that pay farmers to let marginal cropland sit idle.

The man who farms the land on which Bradley stood Friday afternoon wasn’t wild about Bradley’s idea of tying federal farm supports to a three-year rolling average calculating a farmers’ cost of producing a crop — and the price a farmer can get for that crop in the marketplace.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with the government, but there is a lot of paperwork now and that is the thing we’d like to avoid,” said Joe Dunn, who cultivates the 130-year-old family farm, along with another 1,000 surrounding acres which he rents.

Vice President Al Gore, during a telephone interview with Radio Iowa, said he welcomes Bradley’s “brand new interest” in agriculture.

Gore questioned Bradley’s recent reversal on federal ethanol policy. While he was a New Jersey Senator, Bradley opposed the federal tax break for ethanol. Earlier this summer as he campaigned in Iowa as a candidate for the presidency, Bradley announced he supports the corn-based fuel’s tax advantage.

“I think it’s well known that I’ve always supported ethanol,” Gore said. “…This is not just something that I’m doing on the eve of the Iowa Caucuses. I have a consistent record of shoring up the farm safety net.”

Bradley’s farm policy speech fell on the eve of a major Iowa campaign event, the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner that will feature Saturday evening speeches from Bradley and Gore. It will mark the first time the candidates have appeared on the same stage.