Farm Bill Hearing Today in Wichita, Kansas

August 25, 2011 01:38 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Roberts says 'ag has big bull's eye on its back...unwarranted'

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee today will hold a morning hearing titled, Looking Ahead: Kansas and the 2012 Farm Bill. The confab is being hosted by Senate Ag Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

Just how much spending will be allowed for the next omnibus farm bill is still murky ahead of Super Committee action to find at least $1.2 trillion in budget cuts/revenue over 10 years.

"Ag has had a big bull's eye on its back," Roberts said in an Associated Press article. "It has been unwarranted."

Roberts said agriculture will do it's part in helping cut spending, but he wants to do the cutting with a scalpel, not a meat axe.

A growing number of farm bill stakeholders are focusing on the need to keep a viable crop insurance program, with a wide consensus now in place that the around $5 billion in annual direct payments will see a major cut ahead.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) earlier this week said the next federal farm bill will be focused on crop insurance. Thune said it is the federal farm support most easy to defend when Congress and the president are looking for trillions of dollars of spending cuts. "It makes sense to make this the centerpiece of ag policy," Thune said. "Insurance is more defensible than subsidies." Thune told participants at the roundtable organized by the South Dakota Soybean Association that as Congress begins to put together the next farm bill in 2012 in a looming era of budget austerity, "we've got to be thinking about how we can do this in a more efficient, cost-effective way."

Other issues brought before Thune at a roundtable event, according to the Argus Leader included ensuring livestock producers an abundant supply of feed when they are in competition with ethanol producers for corn, insulating livestock producers from animal rights issues, completing stalled trade agreements that could open export markets to nations such as Colombia, Panama and South Korea, and ensuring that biotechnology advances move from laboratories to farm fields as quickly as possible.

Comments: Ag Committee leaders will likely eventually propose some budget cuts in talks with the Super Committee. Cuts for direct payments are almost a given. The way too many conservation programs will likely be reduced to a few -- and cuts are coming for a program pushed hard initially by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) -- the Conservation Stewardship Program. As for crop insurance spending, most lawmakers and farmers say that program is the shining star of risk management. But if crop insurance payments ahead are anywhere close to the up to $8 billion mark of some projections, this program will also come under focus -- if not this year, then following Nov. 2012 elections, when another round of budget cuts will be needed. Bottom line: The next farm bill is just a down payment. Count on changes quicker than most expect.

The Super Committee members may provide a "benchmark" of cuts to agriculture panel members, who would then decide which policy changes are necessary, and which policies are priorities. And looking at the U.S. budget debt, this will be the first of several years of farm program spending cuts. That signals farm policy ahead could truly be facing revolutionary changes, as opposed to the evolutionary changes over the past few decades.


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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