Groups say proposed reductions would hurt agriculture disproportionally
By WES SANDER
Agriculture groups say a proposal for cutting $3 billion from federal farm programs would impact export development and necessary safety nets while reducing federal spending by only a tiny fraction.
Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, included the proposal in a Nov. 10 draft report. The commission was created in February by President Barack Obama to find ways of balancing the federal budget by 2015. Its final recommendations are expected in December.
Their draft has not been approved by the full 18-member commission.
The report calls for cuts to USDA's direct commodity payments, conservation programs and Market Access Program, which works to develop foreign markets.
Bob Young, chief economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, says the proposed reduction amounts to a quarter of those programs' budgets.
The commission's report doesn't impose such large cuts on other industries, Young said.
"We're willing to take cuts," Young said. "But let's talk about our fair share."
Melissa Kessler, spokeswoman for the National Association of Wheat Growers, says cutting direct payments would impact the livelihoods of commodity producers while increasing the already-high risks they face.
Because it assists farmers based on historically farmed acreage instead of land currently in production, direct payments satisfy international trade rules while helping to soften risks posed by weather and pest pressure.
"There have been a lot of cuts already," Kessler said. "We do need to have a viable farm safety net."
Kessler also argues that farm programs have received their share of cuts in recent years. Those include various reductions in the 2008 Farm Bill as well as the $6 billion cut from federal crop insurance over the summer.
Furthermore, a $3 billion cut to farm programs amounts to a tiny portion of a federal deficit, estimated at $1.3 trillion, Kessler said.
The commission is "attacking a lot of very serious things that will make for some very serious debate," she said. "Agriculture is a very small piece of this pie."