Too Small to Succeed

February 5, 2010

WASHINGTON (Feb. 5, 2010)—Just moments after President Obama released his much-anticipated budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, widely respected Congressional leaders on both sides of the political aisle voiced displeasure.

“Put simply the President’s proposal picks winners and losers,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) said in a statement. “By targeting policies that rural America relies upon, this proposal places a disproportionate burden on the backs of farmers and rural communities. While I too believe we must reduce the federal deficit, we must all share in this responsibility.”

Among the nearly $11 billion in cuts to the farm safety net outlined in the budget proposal: a 25 percent cut in one essential component of the safety net for producers of staple crops; a hit on crop insurance that Congressional leaders have already objected to; and new restrictions to exclude from the farm bill many full-time farms that produce 75 percent of the country’s food and fiber.

Ag leaders consider these proposals a serious blow to American agriculture as it seeks to compete against China, India, Brazil and other rising global competitors.

And the fact that farmers and ranchers already received big budget cuts during the farm bill is a key point made by Lincoln.

“In 2008 I worked hard to pass a five-year farm bill that was fiscally responsible,” she explained. “This bill contained [billions]…worth of cuts to farm programs, was completely paid for and did not contribute to the deficit.”

Lincoln further noted that the farm bill is a contract with farmers that they depend on for investment and business planning, and it shouldn’t be changed “in the middle of the game.”

In addition to the cuts noted by Lincoln, the farm bill also included $6 billion in cuts to crop insurance, for a total cut exceeding $7.6 billion.

The Senate Agriculture Committee’s top Republican agrees the budget proposal is out of line, observing that the cuts to the farm safety net are simply used to pay for government programs in Washington.

“I am concerned regarding the level the budget cuts existing operations in order to fund pet initiatives and programs,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). “As with last year, the administration unfairly targets farmers and ranchers to achieve savings and fund Washington-based programs.”

Luckily, the budget proposal is unlikely to get very much traction, according to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-MN).

“It is Congress’s job to write the annual budget, and based on my conversations with House Leadership, no one is interested in making cuts to the farm bill after the battle we just fought to pass it a year and a half ago,” he said.

And that should be welcomed news in rural America, where farm income for 2009 is expected to be down by an estimated $30 billion from the previous year and down 10 percent over the 10-year average.

“It sure is frustrating to pick up the paper in the morning and read about bailouts for corporations that are too big to fail, and then at the same time learn farm budgets are ever-shrinking to the point that American agriculture may become too small to succeed,” said Steve Verett, a Texas farmer and executive vice president of Plains Cotton Growers.

“Sadly, these cuts propose to break a five-year farm bill commitment made to farm and ranch families, they will set-back the kind of long-term investment and planning that create jobs and grow our economy, and will not reduce the deficit by a dime,” he concluded.

Editor’s note: Click here to read a farmer’s letter to the Washington Post about the budget proposal.