February Follies — the Budget and Agriculture

January 26, 2012

Agriculture is a unique industry in so many ways. One particular way—it is perhaps the only area of the federal budget to have shrunk in the past 10 years, yielding cuts even as it was coming in under budget.

Funding for farm policy over the last five years (’07-’11) averaged $12.9 billion per year. This is a 28% reduction from the ’02-’06 average of $17.9 billion and a 31% reduction from the $18.8 billion average from ’97-’01.

After cuts and other recent savings, the budget for next five years (’12-’16) is expected to remain in this low range.

Agriculture also gets a unique amount of attention from its critics and from budget hawks, despite its being so fundamentally important, and despite its being such a small portion of the overall budget.

At $12.9 billion out of $3.8 trillion in annual federal spending, securing our nation’s food supply accounts for a tiny fraction of the budget.  Even eliminating the agriculture budget totally, it would take more than 130 years to cancel the $1.6 trillion deficit accrued in 2011 alone.

And given agriculture policy provides a foundation for a sector of the economy that produces more than $300 billion of new crops and new wealth each year, common sense ought to counsel against reckless cuts.

Finally, if past is prologue, agriculture will be uniquely singled out for new cuts in this year’s budget process while other areas of spending that would actually matter in terms of balancing our budget are left untouched.

Former Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Larry Combest, offers some advice on this annual ritual, offering perspective in terms of sharing the workload.  Agriculture will do its fair share but it can’t get us to a balanced budget alone.

Listen to what Chairman Combest had to say on the subject in this National Association of Farm Broadcasting piece.

[ti_audio media=”1222″] Click to play audio.

Balance the Budget on Farmers’ Backs?

To see what a joke that is, convert $1 trillion into 1,000 miles and imagine taking the following road trips.

National Debt:
Key West, Florida to Anchorage, Alaska;
then back to Key West and back to Anchorage again
15,288 miles
Drive time, 11 days, 21 hours


Annual U.S. Budget:
Key West, Florida to Delta, British Columbia
3,613 miles
Drive time, 2 days, 11 hours


Annual Deficit:
Key West, Florida to Eddyville, Kentucky
1,174 miles
Drive time, 20 hours


Farm Spending:
Key West, Florida to Saddlebunch Keys, Florida
13.1 miles
Drive time, 19 minutes