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When congressional agriculture committees start hammering out details of the 2012 farm bill, “We aren’t going to be able to just make a carbon copy of the 2008 legislation,” says Tara Smith, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.““We’re facing by far the worst budget situation we’ve ever been in when writing a farm bill, and I think this will dominate the discussions."
Can't balance budget on agriculture's back
The reality in the budget discussions, she says, “all comes down to an often-made statement: You can’t balance the budget on farm programs.
“Less than one-half of 1 percent of the federal budget is farm programs. We can’t balance the budget on the backs of farmers, nor should we even try. There are some big pieces of the budget pie that are hard to ignore — Medicare, Medicaid, etc. — and we can’t talk about balancing the budget without addressing those.
“We all know that the majority of the farm bill budget goes for nutrition programs and that there isn’t actually a lot in farm programs to cut.
“Within farm programs, the big pots of money include 77 percent for Title 1 direct payments. You could eliminate countercyclical payments and make the marketing loan program go away completely, and it just wouldn’t save a whole heckuva lot of money. The bulk of the money for agriculture goes for direct payments.
“If you look at crop insurance, $89 billion, the majority of that money is for farmer premium subsidies. It’s going to be very difficult to get more money out of the crop insurance program without starting to have an impact on farmers and the premiums that they pay.”