Federal Spending is Down on the Farm

December 7, 2009

WASHINGTON (Dec. 7, 2009)—In an era of bulging deficits, there is one area of the federal budget—farm policy—that’s actually coming in well below projections, according to new Congressional Budget Office figures analyzed by Farm Policy Facts.

Relative to budget projections made in 2002, farm policy in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills has saved taxpayers more than $30 billion. In fact, actual farm safety net spending has come in under the projected budget in seven of the last eight years.

Former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX), one of the architects of the 2002 farm bill, says the numbers show that the 2002 and 2008 farm bills are working like they were designed.

“When constructing the ’02 farm bill and the 2000 crop insurance bill, we really aimed at preventing cost overruns,” he explained.

The bipartisan authors of the 2008 law embraced this same money-saving approach, Combest noted. In fact, funding for federal farm policy was cut by $7.4 billion in the 2008 farm bill, with the savings applied to other initiatives in the legislation—nutrition and conservation, for example.

And so far, the model appears to have worked. Farm policy costs have fallen 38 percent since nearly a decade ago.

Combest says that reduced federal expenditures are only part of the equation, though.

“The farm bill is an economic lifeline to American agriculture and American agriculture, in turn, is a lifeline to the U.S. economy,” he said. “Designed properly, it acts as a safety net for rural economies and helps promote economic growth and jobs. During this recession and during the manufacturing crisis earlier this decade, prominent economists pointed to American agriculture as the bright spot in the economy, protecting jobs.”

Simply put, the farm bill has been one factor that’s helped prop up an important sector of the U.S. economy. And that means fewer jobs lost and one less bail out for taxpayers to shoulder.

Will the success story continue? Combest thinks so, unless lawmakers cut too deep.

“Given the dire warnings of impending global food shortages, U.S. policymakers need to seriously rethink the objective of further reducing funding for the farm safety net and begin exploring ways to encourage production to meet the growing need for food,” he concluded. “There is no reason why a single child should go hungry in this world today, and America’s farmers and ranchers want to lead the way to make sure that none do.”