Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published March 19, 2012, 11:06 AM

Conrad's farm bill concerns

WASHINGTON — The issue of whether proposed farm bill commodity programs would work in the Northern Plains remain to be resolved in Senate Agriculture Committee negotiations, Jim Miller, a former Agriculture Secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services and key aide to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said March 13 in an interview with Agweek.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — The issue of whether proposed farm bill commodity programs would work in the Northern Plains remain to be resolved in Senate Agriculture Committee negotiations, Jim Miller, a former Agriculture Secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services and key aide to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said March 13 in an interview with Agweek.

Miller also said Conrad’s concerns over issues such as duplication of payments, which farm leaders fear would lead to more criticism of the program, or how various farm proposals would affect the Northern Plains have not been resolved at the staff level.

Miller said he and Conrad are particularly concerned about proposals to aggregate payment areas rather than to make payments based on individual farms because there are “localized production risks” on the Plains. But he added that there has not been an attempt to resolve those issues. Conrad has written his own farm bill proposal that would involve the now-expired permanent disaster program that was included in the 2008 farm bill.

Miller also said that the latest Congressional Budget Office baseline for farm and nutrition programs is unlikely to change lawmakers’ views that the appropriate cut in farm programs for deficit reduction is $23 billion.

The CBO has released the following cost estimates on key farm bill categories over 10 years, Miller said: crop insurance: $91 billion; conservation: $64 billion; commodities: $63 billion; nutrition: $772 billion.

Compared with the March 2011 baseline, Miller said, crop insurance is up $11 billion, nutrition is up $70 billion, conservation programs are up slightly and commodity programs are down slightly. He said that the increase in estimated crop insurance costs is due both to the value of crops and timing shifts stemming from decisions made in the 2008 farm bill.

Congress uses the CBO baseline to determine how much money it has to spend on the next farm bill. The proposed $23 billion cut for deficit reduction would be deducted from the overall figure.

Reacting to a statement by Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., that a farm bill might be attached to another bill with the $23 billion in savings used as an offset for another program, Miller said that idea had arisen before, but that if the agriculture savings are used to pay for another program, agriculture might still be asked to contribute to deficit reduction.

He also noted that using the $23 billion for another program might also mean that agriculture would not be protected against cuts under sequestration.

Miller said he hopes that Roberts “has some tricks up his sleeve” that no one else has thought of if he proposes using the agriculture savings to fund other programs.

Tags: