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By Nicole Palya Wood, National Grange View From The Hill (10/3/11)

  OCTOBER 4, 2011 --

It seems that the agriculture sector and the Farm Bill in general have a mammoth target painted on their backs this year. One that in my opinion is larger than the share they deserve or can safely or feasibly survive. The President released a proposal last week that would cut a total of $600 billion from the Farm Bill titles. The Obama Administration’s plan would completely eliminate direct payments, drastically reduce crop insurance, and slash investment in conservation programs to the ring of $33 billion.

Government funding for farmers has for many years been illustrated by the three-legged stool; consisting of direct payments, counter-cyclical payments and crop insurance. This will not be the landscape of the new Farm Bill. Ham-strung by huge national deficits, the comprehensive piece of ag legislation is caught in the crossfire between a White House that won’t touch serious cuts to social program spending and a Republican House that is bound and determined to get the national debt drawn down.

Don’t get me or the rest of the ag-sector wrong. Farmers and ranchers are the first to step up and do more with less. The ADAP, STAX and ACRE proposals are all pieces of legislation brought to Congress by growers groups and legislators representing heavy ag districts, trying to do their part to reduce and reform spending in a smart way. The problem is proportionality.

Agriculture Reporter Jim Wiesemeyer published research last week that painted a very clear picture, even for someone like me who majored in Political Science and English and took Calculus twice. If we are to exclude tax policy changes, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the agriculture cuts that President Obama is asking for would account for 5.5 percent of all domestic spending cuts. Doesn’t seem so bad. Now compare it to the fact that not even half of 1 percent of federal domestic spending is devoted to ag programs in the first place.

You can call it fuzzy math or just plain bad policy to go after the one shining star in the economic black hole this country seems to find itself in. We have the world’s safest and cheapest food supply and this proposal hammers away at the very safety net that these farmers and ranchers rely on to stabilize their livelihoods and put food on our tables.

In 2009, the dairy industry suffered one of the worst ag catastrophies that this country has ever seen. The MILC program, which was established to protect small-scale farms, has failed miserably with nearly a third of all dairy farmers with less than 500 cows going out of business since the beginning of the program in 2001. The MILC program will offer even less cover for dairy farmers when the formula declines this year.

In 2011, we have seen hurricanes devastate regions that usually only have flooding due to heavy snow fall, not tropical storms. We have seen draughts so severe that entire aquaculture systems in lakes and rivers have been wiped out, not to mention the livestock and crops that rely on these watertables.

If we let these cuts occur at these levels, we do so at our own peril. The agriculture and ranching sectors are willing to do our part and tidy our financial house, but we cannot be expected to bear the brunt of other sectors deeply in need of a good fat-trimming.

-Nicole Palya Wood
National Grange Legislative Director

 
 
 
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