Panel: Cut Ag by $23 billion over 10 years

Newsline Interview
By American Farm Bureau Federation

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is supposed to find $1.2 trillion in budget cuts. AFBF Farm Policy Specialist Mary Kay Thatcher discusses how much of that will likely come from agriculture funding. AFBF’s Johnna Miller reports.

Miller: The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have told the super committee tasked with cutting $1.2 trillion from the budget that they will find $23 billion in savings over the next 10 years from farm bill programs.
Thatcher: We have been saying a long time in Farm Bureau, we wanted to do something about deficit reduction, but we only wanted to do our fair share. Uh This is actually three times our fair share, but I think not really unexpected.
Miller: American Farm Bureau Farm Policy Specialist Mary Kay Thatcher says so far it’s unclear exactly which programs would be cut, but it’s important to maintain a strong safety net for the nation’s farmers and ranchers.
Thatcher: One of the most important things to remember is that you write a farm bill for the bad times, not for good times. And while we’re having pretty darn good prices in agriculture for virtually every commodity right now, we know that that will change and when it does change is when we’ll need to make sure that we have a safety net that protects farmers.
Miller: Thatcher says the general thinking is that a small amount from nutrition programs, which make up about 75 percent of the farm bill, six or seven billion will be cut from conservation programs, but the bulk of the cuts will come out of commodity programs.
Thatcher: Unfortunately you get a lot of members of Congress, especially from the urban areas that read “Oh, soybeans are $13 a bushel right now. We don’t need to do anything for soybean farmers, but what they forget is that it really doesn’t do you any good if you have no production, regardless of what the price of the commodity is. So we need to work on things like crop insurance, like safety nets that would provide protection for people like that. 2011 is a perfect year to talk about that. We’ve had floods and droughts and hurricanes and more weather disasters this year than any year we can remember for a long time.
Miller: Johnna Miller, Washington.

We have two extra actualities with AFBF Farm Policy Specialist Mary Kay Thatcher. In the first extra actuality she speculates on how the new farm bill will look. The cut runs 48 seconds, in 3-2-1.

There’s nothing in writing in the letter that states this, by all accounts the four principles have suggested that we’re willing to forego the $5 billion a year in direct payments. So everyone’s looking at if we forego that, how do we change and come up with another safety net that would help protect agriculture in a different way. If we indeed are eliminating direct payments, I think it makes the crop insurance program an even more important safety net. We need to make sure that we don’t take major cuts from that program and that we come up with a second program that will complement crop insurance and really provide a safety net. A lot of people look at the good prices we’re having right now and say maybe agriculture doesn’t need a safety net anymore. We all know when prices are high, they’ll go back down and that’s when you really have to focus on having the right safety net.

In the second extra actuality Thatcher says the farm bill affects a lot more than most people realize. The cut runs 37 seconds, in 3-2-1.
Thatcher: The farm bill is about a lot more than just farm programs. Seventy-five percent of the funding in the farm bill is about nutrition programs. It’s about food stamps, Women’s Infant’s Children’s, school breakfast, school lunch. So it’s important to make sure we do the right thing there. There’s also a portion of the farm bill that’s about conservation programs so we’re preserving our soils and they’ll be there in the future and then a small part about commodities. But what we have to remember is, it is important that we have the ability in this country to grow the food to be able to compete with farmers around the world and right now the subsidies that we provide our farmers are much less than the vast majority of the developed countries around the world.

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