Farm Bill in Focus

January 28, 2011 05:52 AM

Budget remains one of the biggest factors that will shape the coming U.S. farm bill, according to Pro Farmer News Editor and Farm Journal Policy & Washington Editor Roger Bernard. The deficit, now forecast at a record $1.48 trillion for the current fiscal year, is just the latest sign that lawmakers will have to confront this issue.

In remarks at the Top Producer Seminar in Chicago, Bernard said President Obama acknowledged deficit reduction would be a needed focus in his State of the Union message earlier this week to Congress. "The administration's budget plan that will be revealed Feb. 15 will provide more clues as the timing they are expecting on this area," he noted.

And the budget situation is already going to be dicey for writing the next bill as 38 programs from the 2008 Farm Bill have no budget baseline when the new farm bill is written. "That's going to challenge lawmakers, especially if they want to keep a program around like the Supplemental Revenue Assistance (SURE) program," he commented, since that is one of the key programs of those without a baseline. To keep all of those programs in the next farm bill will require around $9 billion to $10 billion in spending, he detailed.

"Getting a baseline farm bill -- one with no increase in spending beyond the levels put in place by the 2008 Farm Bill -- will be impossible," Bernard added.

While the farm bill will be a focus in the Senate this year under new Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), new House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and other Republicans are promising to focus on regulations imposed on agriculture and other industries by the Obama administration. Lucas says his plans are to focus on that area along with educating new members of the panel this year.

Direct payments will be another source of discussion during the debate on the next farm bill, Bernard said, with some wanting to reduce or eliminate those payments which amount to about $5 billion per year. But lawmakers like Rep. Lucas say those payments are critical for his constituents, noting they measure topsoil "in inches, not feet."

On trade, the administration has agreed to push ahead with the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), wanting Congress to act on it by July 1. That push is in part due to a trade deal Korea inked with Europe coming into force on that date, Bernard said. "But the administration has made it clear, they won't move yet on the Colombia and Panama FTAs without seeking some additional changes to those trade packages, 'he added.

On the issue of GMOs, USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack Thursday announced a total deregulation of roundup ready alfalfa after receiving sharp criticism from several fronts regarding his "co-existence" policy that he touted to several ag groups. "I think the congressional forum last week in which he took a lot of flak for his proposal helped shape the decision along with several other factors, including trade," Bernard said.

As for how the budget picture will affect the farm bill, Bernard said that until the specific budget pool of money that lawmakers have to write the bill is set, it's mostly conjecture at this point. "But it's clear that there won't be an increase in funding for the next farm bill," Bernard concluded.


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