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Writing a new Farm Bill with less funding, less time

Agriculture leaders in Congress embraced the challenge.

By Reece Langley
VP Government Affairs
USA Rice Federation
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As the congressional debate in early 2011 focused on how to tackle the nation’s ballooning debt and deficit situation, no one anticipated that the “solution” to address the fiscal situation would lead to a process to reauthorize farm policy for the next five years. The current Farm Bill expires at the end of 2012, but the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have been busy negotiating new farm policy for 2013 through 2017. The reasons are twofold: The requirement to cut billions from agriculture budget and the desire of the Agriculture Committees to have a say in how the savings are achieved.

Policy Alternatives Analyzed

In early August, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (Select Committee), comprised of 12 lawmakers evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and House and Senate members. The task of the Select Committee is to achieve at least $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years by reducing federal spending and/or increasing federal revenue. If the goal is not reached, automatic, across-the-board cuts are scheduled to occur in 2013.

Considering that previous proposals to address the fiscal situation included cuts to agriculture as high as $50 billion, the Agriculture Committees seized this opporopportunity to develop a joint recommendation to cut $23 billion from the agriculture budget and still maintain a functioning farm policy for producers.

The four leaders of the Agriculture Committees, House Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), Senate Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), House Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Senate Ranking Member Pat Roberts (RKS), are negotiating the new farm policy to begin in 2013. While the USA Rice Federation and the U.S. rice industry have strongly supported current farm policy, including the direct payment program, we recognized the political and budgetary realities of maintaining this policy.

As a result, USA Rice and its producer leadership began analyzing policy alternatives that would maintain an effective safety net for rice and remain within the fiscal constraints placed on agriculture. We believe the outcome produced by the Agriculture Committees should meet these requirements, providing our industry with a farm policy that allows for growth while meeting unique risk-management needs.

Grateful For Ag Leaders’ Efforts

The volatility in agriculture has never been greater, with commodity prices and input costs moving more in weeks or months than in an entire year in the not-too- distant past. The U.S. agriculture sector has been one of the bright spots in the current economic environment and to risk threatening this by dismantling farm policy in the name of deficit reduction would have proven foolish and misguided.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the agriculture leaders in Congress who embraced the challenge, proving that good policy can still be achieved, even when it means working with less funding and in less time.

To learn more, visit www.usarice.com.

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