After Republican Scott Brown won the Congressional seat held by the late Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy in mid-January, the fear among certain members of Congress that they might be swept away by mid-term elections became very real.
Two weeks later, the Obama administration had turned its focus from healthcare to getting the U.S. economy back on sound footing.
Unfortunately, this included the release of a proposed 2011 budget (Obama budget cuts farm programs) which included cuts for agriculture in crop insurance and direct payment subsidies and lowered the farm payment eligibility caps from $750,000 (for farm income) and $500,000 (for non-farm income) to $500,000 and $250,000, respectively.
Essentially, they’re cutting dollars to save dimes.
The long-term outlook for U.S. agriculture is bright. Over the next few decades, the world population is expected to grow to 9 billion, and more and more of the world population is expected to move into the middle class, which will put greater demand on U.S. farmers to provide food, feed, fuel and fiber.
In addition, U.S. farmers are crucial to the Obama administration’s effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions through expansion of the renewable fuels standard. According to a just-released EPA computer model, corn-based ethanol can reduce greenhouse emissions by as much as 52 percent. In addition, cellulosic ethanol can achieve a greenhouse gas reduction of 72 percent to 130 percent depending upon feedstock and the conversion process, according to the EPA’s model.
However, neither Obama’s goals of energy independence nor a new world prosperity can be realized without an efficient, environmentally-conscious and sustainable U.S. agricultural sector, with access to good credit, adequate crop insurance, research and development, a safety net that kicks in when prices sink below the cost of production and disaster assistance for when crops aren’t harvested for whatever reason.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the congressional leaders from the agricultural states for their constant efforts to remind Congress and the Obama administration that U.S. agriculture represents the apex of efficiency, technology, environmental stewardship and farming skill, and they need to stay in business.
But frankly, this latest round of proposed cutbacks demonstrates a serious misunderstanding, or perhaps contempt, for how important U.S. agriculture is — even to the administration’s own plans.
And it is extremely discouraging that Congress continues to ignore the need for timely disaster assistance for Mid-South producers, who experienced severe losses in yield and quality due to the 4 to 5 feet of rainfall that fell during the latter part of the growing season in 2009. I have talked to producers who tell me they’ll be carrying the loss on their ledgers for years to come, making their margin for error very slim indeed.
Simply put, to continue to ignore the needs of U.S. farmers is not in the best interests of economic recovery, short-term or long-term. It’s time to make agriculture a part of the solution, not a scapegoat.