Call your congressman. Fax a note. E-mail your senators and representatives and implore them to dig in and hold on to every cent of the $73 billion they approved last year for a seven-year farm program.

While ink on the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 was still smudgy, folks began to hear outcries from in and outside the United States that the law was unfair to: the environment, third world countries, U.S. consumers and the other bugbears that crawl out from under various rocks to denounce any legislation that offers help to U.S. farmers.

The threat could be real, says Bruno Alesii, manager of the technical development division for Monsanto.

Alesii, speaking at the recent Conservation Tillage Conference in Houston, cautioned farmers to watch their backs on the farm bill.

“There are movements now to take money out of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002,” he said.

Efforts to take money out of farm programs and put “it elsewhere may come from both Congress and within the administration. So, you need to let your congressmen know that they should leave the farm bill alone. Contact them now.”

Alesii said the farm sector has considerable ammunition to use in protecting its turf.

“Farm program funding represents only 0.56 percent of the entire U.S. budget,” he said. “Out of a $3.3 trillion budget, agriculture gets $73 billion.”

And a good chunk of that goes to food and nutrition programs.

The American consumer, he added, gets a good deal. “The farm program costs each U.S. citizen $48 per year, 13 cents a day and about 4.5 cents per meal. That's a bargain for the safest, most abundant food supply in the world.

“Consumers are getting a good return on their investment.”

It looks pretty good from a global perspective, as well. One of the most vocal opponents of the U.S. farm program, the European Union, spends $309 per acre on farm subsidies. Japan spends a whopping $4,000 per acre. The U.S. farmer, Alesii said, gets $49 per acre.

Criticism that the largest farms get the lion's share of the funds also begs explanation, he said. “Consider that 38 percent of our farms produce 92 percent of our food and fiber.”

Jim butler, USDA deputy undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, said at the annual Texas Seed Trade Meeting in Dallas, a few days following the Conservation Tillage Conference, that farm program funds should be safe from congressional or administration cuts.

“I don't believe funds will be shifted from the farm bill to other programs during the life of the legislation,” Butler said. “I've heard no internal discussions about any threat to farm bill funding.”

He did concede that the Office of Management and Budget sometimes exerts its influence on appropriations. “And we are in a fiscally conservative mode. Still, I think farm bill funds are safe.”

rsmith@primediabusiness.com