If there were any doubts that a large part of the farm population opposes President Bush's proposed budget cuts, they are being dispelled by a letter from farm groups to the House and Senate budget committees.

A total of 218 farm, rural, hunger-relief and agribusiness groups — a huge number even by Washington standards — signed the letter asking the committees to preserve the current funding levels for Agriculture Department programs.

The groups range from well-known farm and commodity organizations such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Cotton Council to groups like 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women.

“The mandatory programs administered by the Department of Agriculture (i.e., commodity, conservation, crop insurance, export promotion programs, nutrition, forestry and other valuable programs) are of enormous importance to farmers, ranchers, rural businesses, low-income Americans and all our nation's children,” the letter says.

“Therefore, we respectfully urge the Budget Committees to avoid reconciliation instructions to the Senate and House Agriculture Committees.”

The letter notes that Congress enacted the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 three years ago following two years of “exhaustive debate” in the House and Senate.

“The new farm law represents a delicate balance by effectively addressing the stability of our agricultural production base, protecting our important natural resources, enhancing nutrition and food assistance programs in our Nation, and providing adequate research funding for our future,” it said.

The letter also urged the House and Senate budget committees to adequately fund discretionary spending.

“Given the cuts agricultural programs have already sustained over the last several years, we ask that you not adopt a discretionary spending level that requires agricultural programs to take additional budget reductions,” it noted.

The organizations urged the budget committees to preserve the agriculture budget for mandatory and discretionary programs by not including “any reconciliation instructions in the budget resolution to the Senate Committee on Agriculture or the House Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.”

Several farm groups issued press releases calling attention to the letter. Among those were the American Soybean Association.

“ASA asks that Congressional budget writers avoid taking actions that would unfairly hurt important agricultural programs,” said ASA Chairman Ron Heck, a soybean grower from Perry, Iowa. “Farm programs are critically important to the U.S. economy, and agriculture should not be forced to take a disproportionate cut as Congress considers ways to reduce the federal deficit.”

Leaders said the budget, and other issues, will be stressed when the ASA makes its annual trip to Capitol Hill the week of March 14. “We look forward to communicating to Congress why continued federal investment in rural America is vital and why the current farm bill should not be revisited,” Heck said.

Among other groups signing the letter were: American Association of Crop Insurers; American Corn Growers Association; American Cotton Exporters Association; American Cotton Shippers Association; American Society of Farm Managers & Rural Appraisers; American Sugar Alliance; Children's Alliance;

Congressional Hunger Center; Farm Credit Council; National Association of Conservation Districts;

National Association of Resource Conservation Development Councils; National Association of State Conservation Agencies; National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges; National Association of Wheat Growers; National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; National Farmers Union;

Southern Cotton Association; Soybean Producers of America; Texas Cotton Association; The Nature Conservancy; U.S. Apple; U.S. Canola Association; U.S. Rice Producers Association; USA Rice Federation; Volunteers of America; Western Cotton Shippers Association; Western Peanut Growers Association; and Women Involved in Farm Economics.