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Published March 22, 2012, 09:06 AM

Ryan budget cuts $180 billion from farm bill programs

WASHINGTON — Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said March 21 that the budget proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would cut the Agriculture Department budget by $180 billion over 10 years and hurt programs important to North Dakota while other Democrats and farm leaders also criticized the Ryan proposal.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said March 21 that the budget proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would cut the Agriculture Department budget by $180 billion over 10 years and hurt programs important to North Dakota while other Democrats and farm leaders also criticized the Ryan proposal.

“The House Republican proposal also upends a bipartisan agreement on the amount of federal support for agriculture programs and will make it extremely difficult to craft a new farm bill this year,” Conrad said in a news release.

“Leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees had agreed to cut $23 billion in agriculture, conservation and nutrition program funding in the new farm bill to assist with deficit reduction,” Conrad said. “However, the House Republican proposal calls for about $180 billion in cuts to farm bill programs, including $31 billion to commodity and crop insurance programs, $133.5 billion to nutrition assistance programs, and about $16 billion to conservation programs.”

Ryan released a budget on March 20, but it has been difficult to determine the exact dollar impact of some of his proposals.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the American Soybean Association and the National Farmers Union also issued statements critical of the proposal.

“The process outlined by the House Republican budget all but guarantees there will be no farm bill this year,” Peterson said.

“The Ryan budget proposes significant cuts in the farm safety net and conservation programs, and slashes spending on nutrition programs that provide food for millions of Americans,” Peterson said.

“It is appalling that in an attempt to avoid defense cuts the Republican leadership has elected to leave farmers and hungry families hurting,” he said. “We need to get our spending under control and agriculture has shown that we can do our part but all other sectors of our economy need to do so as well. To do otherwise is irresponsible.”

“The budget proposed in the House today is irresponsible and undermines one of the few sectors in our economy that is growing and creating jobs,” Stabenow said.

“We must reduce the deficit in all areas of the budget, including agriculture, but we must do that in a way that does not hurt the economy,” she said.

“Last year, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees developed bipartisan proposals to consolidate programs and make them more cost-effective, saving billions while still strengthening key priorities to help agriculture continue to grow,” Stabenow said. “This budget as proposed does nothing to strengthen production agriculture. Instead, it will hurt families and America’s economy at a time when we need to be creating jobs.”

Farm bill votes

Vilsack noted that farmers need urban legislators to vote for the farm bill if it is to pass the House.

According to an unofficial transcript of a conversation with Agritalk provided by Farm Policy, Vilsack said, “It’s fairly clear to me the folks in the countryside want a farm bill. The question is how do you get the votes for a farm bill. When only 2 percent of the population farm, 16 percent of the population lives in rural areas where the farms and ranches are located, you obviously have to also address the needs and issues of the other 84 percent of the country, and that’s why you have a combination of nutrition assistance programs and farm programs.”

“It’s also important to point out, which is often not pointed out, that when you talk about food assistance programs, 16 percent of every food dollar goes in the farmer’s pocket,” Vilsack said. “Now, we all can debate whether that’s fair or right, but the reality is 16 cents of every food dollar does, in fact, end up in the farmer’s pocket, so as we look at food assistance programs, 16 percent of that is farm income.

“At the same time, the other 84 percent goes to folks who package, process, truck, refrigerate, store, shelve, sell food products, which often involves employment, so there are jobs connected to these programs,” Vilsack continued. “And during a tough economic time, you obviously want to help people through that tough economic time and you want to keep people employed if you can. So there are a lot of combinations and a lot of reasons why you’ve got nutrition assistance programs linked to farm programs.”

The American Soybean Association said it hopes that budget reconciliation will lead to a faster consideration of a potential farm bill.

“The cuts that Chairman Ryan proposes, however, are significantly higher than those agreed upon by House and Senate Agriculture Committee leadership during the supercommittee process last fall, and that concerns us,” the ASA said in a statement. “Especially worrisome is the chairman’s emphasis on the federal crop insurance program as an area for reduction. Crop insurance serves as the main safety net for America’s farmers, and its integrity must be protected.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said, “Once again, we see that Congress is attempting to balance the budget on the backs of rural America. The proposed cuts to agriculture spending would severely constrain the ability of the next farm bill to provide policy that protects against yield losses and when markets collapse. The House Budget Committee report includes language that net farm income has been high in recent years, but as farmers, we know that with our current policies, good times do not last.”

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