The honeymoon may not be over for President Obama and major farm commodity groups – but they are having words.
During last’s week’s address to Congress and the nation, the president proposed sweeping cuts to the farm safety net included in the 2008 Farm Bill. His $3.6 trillion proposed budget called for, among other things: phasing out over a three-year period direct payments to producers with sales revenue of more than $500,000 annually; establishing a $250,000 commodity program payment limit; reducing crop insurance funds by $5.2 billion over 10 years; and cutting Market Access Program funds, which are used by the wheat industry and others to promote sales of U.S. products, by 20%.
At the Commodity Classic last week, David Cleavinger, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and a wheat producer from Wildorado, TX, joined leaders from the National Corn Growers Association, National Sorghum Producers and the American Soybean Association in asserting dismay with the proposal in a statement to the Obama administration.
“As the leaders of participant organizations at the 2009 Commodity Classic, which represent almost 90% of our nation's crop area planted, we would like to take this opportunity to reiterate the importance of the farm safety net as written in the 2008 Farm Bill,” says Cleavinger in the joint statement from the commodity groups. “The small investment in agricultural programs by the federal government provides an excellent return for the American people. The 2008 Farm Bill also includes many other reforms that will assist farmers in becoming more financially sound.
“Production agriculture is a volatile business, and a workable farm safety net is vital to the security of our industry. The continued production of an abundant, affordable and safe food and feed supply for Americans and all those we export to around the world will be affected if this safety net is changed.
“The purpose of a five-year farm bill is to provide stability to producers, agricultural operations and the food system. The 2008 bill should not be reopened before it expires in 2012. Our organizations look forward to continued work with the Obama Administration and Congress to ensure farm program monies are spent wisely,” Cleavinger says.
Some House and Senate agricultural committee members also voiced concern over opening the still-new farm bill. Ranking House Ag Committee Republican Frank Lucas (OK) sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressing great concern about the administration’s position on eliminating direct payments to producers.
“I have real concerns about this administration’s position on eliminating direct payments to our producers, which would be detrimental to their livelihoods,” says Lucas. “Our farmers and ranchers are some of the hardest working people in the U.S. and they are struggling to make a living in a difficult economy. Yet, it’s clear that both Secretary Vilsack and President Obama don’t understand the problems facing our agriculture community. And, they absolutely don’t understand how important rural communities are to our economy.”