AFBF releases recommendations to guide Congress in 2012 Farm BillWritten by Christy Martinez
In recent recommendations to Congress pertaining to the 2012 Farm Bill, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said continuing most current farm programs is the best way to ensure a farm safety net that works for all commodities and regions of the country.
While the new farm bill normally would not be written until next year, this fall’s push for budget cuts means major farm policy decisions will come sooner rather than later. The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction or “super committee” is charged with coming up with at least $1.2 trillion in budget cuts this fall, and about $10 to $40 billion of the cuts are expected to come from farm bill programs. Those cuts would be deep enough to result in a de facto rewriting of the farm bill this year, and the House and Senate agriculture committees will need to submit ideas to the super committee soon to ensure those in Congress who best understand agriculture and rural America have a meaningful opportunity to weigh in on the process.
The AFBF recommendations include maintaining all current commodity programs, including direct payments, crop insurance, ACRE (Average Crop Revenue Election), target prices, and marketing loan programs. Farm Bureau is willing to consider modifications and adjustments to these programs to make them more effective in a reduced budget environment.
Wyoming Farm Bureau President Perry Livingston was a part of the recommendation process. He says the 32 state Farm Bureau presidents make up the AFBF board of directors, which is charged with giving direction to AFBF’s Washington, D.C. staff.
“We stick to our policy book as closely as we can, but most of the time the policies we have written are not necessarily what Congress says, so we have to have the ability to work within the system and with what Congress is trying to do,” says Livinston of developing recommendations that could work for Congress while still remaining true to their members’ intent. “Sometimes our policy is clear, and sometimes we have to interpret its intent.”
Livingston says the recommendations have been in the works this fall, ever since August, when Congress began talking about rewriting the farm bill as opposed to making cuts to the 2008 bill. He says that, after much discussion by the board of directors, with input from staff, it was decided there are several priorities in the new farm bill: commodities, conservation, crop insurance and research and development.
In its final recommendations, AFBF acknowledges that funding reductions will have to be made, and recommends spreading them out by making 30 percent of the necessary cuts in each of three program areas: commodity programs, conservation and nutrition, with 10 percent of the cuts in crop insurance. Those four areas make up 99 percent of the funding in the farm bill.
“It’s my understanding that the crop insurance program is something that’s utilized by many of our members in Wyoming,” says Livingston. “Quite a few ranch people use the rangeland insurance, which is a relatively new product that’s only been available a few years.”
AFBF recommends apportioning the commodity program cuts in a way that provides 94 percent of the reductions from reduced outlays for direct payments, five percent from the ACRE program and one percent from the dairy program.
Because the research and rural development titles already are small parts of the farm bill budget and are high priorities for Farm Bureau, AFBF recommends those programs be maintained at current funding levels.
“Because research and development is such a small part already, we encourage Congress to maintain it at current levels,” says Livingston.
Recently the Obama administration proposed even deeper cuts than those already expected of the super committee, to help offset the cost of the president’s American Jobs Act plan.
The president’s proposal would include a $33 billion reduction in agriculture programs, and AFBF says it “adamantly opposes” reductions of that magnitude. However, using the $33 billion figure as an example, the percentage cuts recommended by AFBF would break down as 15 percent from the $65 billion commodity programs baseline, 16 percent from the $63 billion conservation programs baseline, one percent from the $700 billion nutrition programs baseline and four percent from the $80 billion crop insurance baseline.
Direct payments have become a target because they are not based on crop production or prices. However, AFBF says that if it were not for direct payments during droughts over the past few years, “many family-owned and operated farms would be out of business.” One way to reduce the cost of direct payments, AFBF suggests, is to lower the percentage of the acreage base used to calculate the payments.
AFBF says additional savings could come from consolidating conservation programs into a working lands program, a retirement lands program and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), as well as reducing the number of acres eligible for CRP.
“We believe 23 conservation programs are too many,” says the organization, which recommends two-thirds of the cuts in conservation programs come from the retirement lands program, with the remaining third coming from the working lands program.
Livingston says that, in addition to AFBF, a number of farm bill proposals have been presented to Congress, and that the House and Senate ag committees are working on different proposals.
“Everyone has their own ideas, and Congress has to put their hands around the subject and figure out what they want to do, but it’s a continual moving target. We have an extensive staff that’s right there in D.C. to visit with the people on a daily basis. It’s extremely important for our members to know we have that ability, and we utilize it from day to day,” states Livingston.
Although AFBF has a position on the subject, Livingston continues that it’s important to remain flexible.
“It won’t end up exactly the way we want– Congress doesn’t work that way – so we have to have policies in place to get us as close as we can to where we want to be, yet maintain flexibility. If we become rigid in our policy positions we can be assured we won’t get what we want,” he says.
Of the future of the 2012 Farm Bill, Livingston says it’s still uncertain.
“The super committee hasn’t given direction to the ag committees in the House and Senate, or the percentage they have to cut. Those committees are working blind, because they don’t know how many billion dollars they have to cut,” he explains. “They’re playing this by ear until somebody establishes a point where we need to be, and they haven’t made that decision yet.”