Election unlikely to change US farm subsidies

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Published: October 15,2010

Tags: agriculture, Farm Bill

MINNEAPOLIS — Republicans might take control of Congress as they ride a wave of voter anger over deficit spending and big government, but experts who follow agriculture say they don’t expect deep cuts in subsidies to farmers who grow crops such as corn and soybeans.

Those payments are long-entrenched policy that have had the support of a wide range of lawmakers, from liberal to conservative. Regardless of the election results, that likely won’t change much, politicians and other said.

Still, federal farm programs could be examined closely given the size of the deficit and the chance that the election could change the makeup of the agriculture committees and their leadership.

“It’s going to be a bit of a roller coaster on election night from an agriculture perspective,” said Tara Smith, a director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

But Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, said he doubts anyone on the panel would push to cut overall spending in the next Farm Bill. It will be a five-year package that includes crop subsidies – primarily for corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat, peanuts and rice – and a range of other programs. The bulk of Farm Bill money goes to nutrition programs such as food stamps.

If Republicans take control of the House, Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma could take over as chairman of the Agriculture Committee. Lucas declined an interview request, but Peterson said a change wouldn’t make a big difference, except that Peterson is eager to start writing the 2012 Farm Bill next year while Lucas wants to wait.

“We’re not going to have a bill unless Frank Lucas and I agree on it,” Peterson said. “Whether he’s chairman or I’m chairman, that’s not going to change.”

Likely to come under fire, however, are “direct payments,” a $5 billion a year subsidy that pays landowners a set per-acre amount regardless of what they’re currently growing or whether prices are high or low. Prices for corn and other crops have soared lately.

The Iowa Farm Bureau made waves last month by calling for an end to direct payments, but it also proposed shifting the money to other programs that shield farmers from losses due to poor prices, bad weather or diseases.

Direct payments are popular with Southern farmers, and Smith predicted some state Farm Bureaus will “wholeheartedly oppose” Iowa’s proposal when the national group holds its annual meeting in January.

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