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National Grange Blog: Farm Bill Blues

By Grace Boatright, National Grange Blog (1/31/11)

  FEBRUARY 1, 2011 --

As the Republican-led House settles into their Washington duties, topics such as the 2012 Farm Bill are coming into discussion. Since the November elections, several changes have occurred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry that are sure to have an impact on the provisions of the 2012 Farm Bill. For starters, as previously expected, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) took over as Chair, and Pat Roberts (R-KS) took over as the Ranking Member. Stabenow has a strong background in agricultural, as her first bill as a member of the House was the Wheat and Barley Protection Act of 1997. Roberts also has a strong agricultural background, with a particular focus on wheat production. John Boozeman (R-AR) and John Hoeven (R-ND) also joined the committee. Hoeven’s assignment will allow North Dakota to join Iowa and Nebraska, two of the largest producers of corn and soybeans, in having two members on the committee. Several changes have been made to the House Agriculture Committee as well, including Frank Lucas (R-OK) becoming chairman. In the past, Lucas has been a strong supporter of safety net programs, as well as conservation programs aimed at helping farmers maintain their land. 

Issues sure to influence the construction of the 2012 Farm Bill include budget allocations, farming subsidies, and the Brazilian cotton conflict. Obviously, with Congress on a mission to cut spending, agricultural subsidies, commodity programs, environmental programs, and crop insurance programs are in danger of reduction. Tara Smith, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation stated; “38 programs in the 2008 Farm Bill have absolutely no budget. If we want to continue those programs…money will have to be taken from someone else to do it” (Smith). In fact, these 38 programs would require about $9 billion in funding; a large sum which will be hard to squeeze from other programs. In addition, Rich Pottorff, chief economist and Washington editor of Doane Agricultural Services reminded us that; “budget issues totaling about $4.5 billion were sidestepped in the 2008 Farm Bill by shifting the timing of payments for some programs, and Congress won’t be able to do that again” (Pottorff ). All of this comes at a time when farming subsidies are surfacing as a popular choice for budget cuts. Many argue they are a financial burden American taxpayers can do without, claiming they only benefit the large-scale farms that don’t need the assistance or are spent on lands no longer used for farming. 

As for problems abroad, in 2009, the WTO approved a Brazilian ban on U.S. cotton after Brazil’s claim that U.S. cotton subsidies were illegal under WTO guidelines. U.S. negotiators agreed to pay the Brazilian government $147 million on an annual basis to what is now called the Brazilian Cotton Farmers Fund. In light of the agreement, the Brazilian government agreed to drop all trade sanctions against various U.S. industries. Bringing our cotton policies into compliance will surely be addressed in the new Farm Bill, as the United States surely cannot afford to waste $147 million a year. 

Unfortunately, the new Farm Bill cannot be constructed by crossing out the numbers from the old 2008 bill and replacing them with new figures. New Committee members and a new political environment, both domestically and abroad, are certain to have a large impact on devising and passing the new 2012 Farm Bill. With the juggernaut being created by the Obama Administration’s call for system-wide program cuts and the newly elected House of Representatives demanding fiscal restraint, the next farm bill will have to either very creative or very skinny.

Pottorff, Rich. “Budget Problems Confront 2012 Farm Bill.” 22 September 2010. Web. 
31 January 2011. http://www.agnetwork.com/Budget-Problems-Confront-2012-Farm-Bill/2010-09-22/Article.aspx?oid=1243898&fid=AN-LATEST_NEWS 

Smith, Tara. “Budget Concerns will Overshadow 2012 Farm Bill.” 24 January 2011. Web. 
28 January 2011. http://deltafarmpress.com/government/budget-concerns-will-overshadow-2012-farm-bill 

Grace Boatright
National Grange Program Assistant


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