House Ag Committee cautions about cuts in Farm Bill recommendations
On March 7 the House Agriculture Committee sent a letter to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) outlining the committee’s budget recommendations for the agencies and programs under its jurisdiction for fiscal year 2013.
Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota) signed the bipartisan document, which acknowledges the need for deficit reduction while warning of excessive cuts to vital farm programs.
“The Committee on Agriculture is dedicated to ensuring the federal government continues to promote policies and risk management tools that will keep American agriculture and rural communities strong and our citizens healthy and safe,” wrote the Congressmen.
The committee’s primary focus this year will be reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which expires Sept. 30. Last fall the committee proposed $23 billion in Farm Bill savings, including $15 billion from commodity programs, $6 billion from conservation programs and $4 billion from nutrition.
“Expiring unfunded livestock disaster programs would have been extended but fully paid for in recognition of the extreme drought conditions facing many livestock producers around the country,” the authors wrote.
Some key points from the letter include:
Crop insurance, which they say has become a “cornerstone of risk management in agriculture for a great many producers.”
“One area of consensus that seems to be forming is to simplify and improve conservation programs,” they wrote, saying the committee wants to streamline programs designed to help producers avoid regulation or come into compliance.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, is the largest program under the committee’s jurisdiction, and SNAP spending has tripled in the last 10 years, to an annual $700 billion today.
In contrast to many other mandatory funding policies, spending on farm policy has declined significantly.
“Another way to reduce the deficit is to grow the economy,” says the committee. “Regulations appear to be promulgated in spite of potential negative real-world economic consequences that could undermine U.S. producers’ ability to produce the world’s safest, most abundant and most affordable food and fiber supply.”
A view that the strong agricultural economy justifies cutting agricultural programs even further ignores lessons from history, says the committee.
“The ag economy is highly cyclical, and having sound farm policy in place is vital not just for producers but for the entire national economy,” they wrote.
During some of the worst economic times in the last 50 years, agriculture has served as a catalyst for economic growth, says the letter. Last year, U.S. farmers and ranchers produced $410 billion on goods and spent $227 billion to purchase inputs. They made $65 billion in rent payments, paid $24 billion in wages and spent $15 billion on interest and financing.
“While agriculture would be the 25th largest economy based on the value of good purchased alone if it were its own country, the farm safety net now constitutes less than one quarter of one percent of the federal budget,” wrote the committee.
“Recognizing the dire fiscal situation the country is in, we developed a bipartisan farm bill proposal last fall that would have contributed substantially to deficient reduction…That process has given the committee the information needed to write a farm bill that is more efficient and streamlined and that consolidates duplicative policies,” concludes the letter.
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.