In search of a "safety net" for farmers at a time of federal budget slashing, Iowa's largest farm group is thinking about dropping its support of government price supports for crops.

Leaders of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation say the risks of farming might better be reduced if increasingly scarce federal dollars are allocated in ways other than the current system of target prices, loan rates and deficiency payments.A revenue assurance policy might provide payments similar to federal disaster aid, helping farmers recover much of their investment in a bad year, without guaranteeing a profit, said Daryl Siebens, vice president of the Iowa Farm Bureau.

"We're saying, 'If you want us to be there, then there may have to be times when you pay us to be there,' " Mr. Siebens told reporters Wednesday.

The system now makes deficiency payments to farmers who participate in federal farm programs. The payments are equal to the difference between a government-set target price and the higher of either the average market price in the period from September to January or a government loan rate on crops farmers agree to temporarily hold off the market.

Merlin Plagge, the Iowa Farm Bureau president, said the debate is a hot issue because of what has happened to government farm programs since the severe farm recession of the 1980s.

"The 1985 farm bill provided a substantial safety net for agriculture. Since '85, we've seen a constant erosion of that piece of legislation. At the present time, we've poked so many holes in that safety net that there's not a whole lot left there," Mr. Plagge said. "Members are saying, 'Maybe there's a better way.' "