Agricultural programs could be cut by $30 billion to $35 billion in the 2012 farm bill, warned Carlisle Clarke, legislative assistant to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., in an interview with The Southeast Farm Press.
“Last fall, in the debt ceiling discussions, each congressional committee was charged with offering up a package of cuts for programs under their jurisdiction,” he said at the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s annual commodity conference last week.
Clarke, whose boss serves as vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee and as a member of the Agriculture Committee, said leadership of the House and Senate agriculture committees agreed on $23 billion in cuts, though he noted Cochran and other committee members were limited in the input they could offer.
“The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction ultimately didn’t ultimately pass anything, but we still ended up with that $23 billion in proposed cuts hanging over our heads for the 2012 farm bill,” Clarke told the Southeast Farm Press.
Part of the agreement last August, Clarke says, required that if the committee didn’t achieve the targeted budget cuts that would then be passed by Congress, budget sequestration would occur in January 2013.
“This means we’d essentially have automatic cuts determined by the Office of Management and Budget, with no input whatever by congressional leaders. That could mean $30 billion to $35 billion could be taken out of agriculture.
The money would have to come from ag programs since food stamp programs are exempt from the cuts, according to Clarke.
The current farm program expires at the end of September, and if no new farm bill is passed or the current bill isn’t extended, “we would revert to the common statutes of 1949 — and I don’t think anyone would realistically consider that an option,” Clarke told the Southeast Farm Press.
There are differing opinions and philosophies on what farm policy should look like for the next five years, Clarke says. “There is a large group who are adamant that direct payments, countercyclical payments, and the ACRE program should be eliminated and that we should move to a comprehensive revenue package, while some feel that crop insurance is the answer for everyone.
“Sen. Cochran’s position is that we need to insure there is a viable, equitable option for all regions of the country and for all producers of all commodities. That’s our challenge going forward — to sell that message and hopefully get enough members on board from those who are not well informed about production agriculture.
Clarke said the $19 billion spent on farm programs last year gave farmers a safety net that helped to keep food prices in check. “If you take away that safety net, take away that protection for farmers against uncertainty heading into a crop year, it would not only undermine our domestic farm policy and production agriculture nationwide, it would undoubtedly have serious consequences on the price of food.”
Asked if the Systemic Risk Reduction Program (SRRP), which has been popular in the Midwest, might work for Mississippi producers, he said, “We do have some concerns with how SRRP is currently written.
“Those who support SRRP argue that having a target price program instead of some sort of price trigger would distort marketing decisions to farmers — that they would plant one commodity over another, based on the type of program instead of the market decision they would naturally make.
“Our farms here are more diversified than those in the Midwest; some things work better for them, some things work better for us. We’re going to try for equitable, viable solutions that work for everybody.”
He noted in the Farm Press interview that Mississippi agriculture had its “best year ever” in 2011, with production value of $7 billion.
But farmers are having to spend more per acre than ever before, he said.