Deficit, regional differences shaping farm bill talks

Buckeye Farm News

How much money will it cost and where will it come from?

With heightened awareness about federal spending, those will be the two questions lawmakers will be asking about every proposal they consider, including the 2012 Farm Bill, according to Mary Kay Thatcher, American Farm Bureau Federation policy specialist.

“Without a doubt every farm bill is more difficult to write, more difficult to pass, more difficult to get a coalition built around,” she told farmers at OFBF’s annual meeting.

She said increased demand for nutrition programs, which make up the vast majority of farm bill spending, make them an unlikely target for cuts.

Other places Congress may look to reduce spending are crop insurance premium subsidies, direct payments and the conservation programs known as CRP, CSP and EQIP.

“You can see the pots of money and that’s what’s going to drive many of the decisions,” she said.

While Midwestern farmers have tended to favor cuts to direct payments in exchange for a stronger crop insurance program, many Southern farmers grow crops that benefit more from direct payments.

Thatcher also noted that “we’re way below average” compared to other countries in terms of the amount that government subsidies contribute to gross farm receipts.  In the United States, that number is 9 percent but in Japan, for example, it’s 47 percent.

Thatcher said there’s one mistake that farmers have made in past farm bills that she hopes they can avoid.

“We write a farm bill that (only) manages whatever financial situation we’re in at that time,” she said.

Farmers from around the country are expected to develop national policy on the 2012 Farm Bill at the American Farm Bureau annual meeting in Atlanta next month.

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