The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 is a contract with producers, and USDA should not be allowed to add or subtract from that contract to meet short-term budget objectives, a leading agricultural senator says.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., speaking at the Delta Council’s 74th annual meeting in Cleveland, Miss., said the 2008 farm bill provided major reforms and significantly increased spending for nutrition and conservation programs.

Lincoln, a member of the Senate Agriculture, Finance and Energy Committees, said she is continuing to remind her colleagues that more than 80 of them voted for the bill, including one senator who has since proposed capping direct payments to producers with more than $500,000 in gross sales.

“You can also be certain that I will continue to remind President Obama that he voted for this farm bill,” said Lincoln to applause at the meeting on the Delta State University campus. “And it is important for him and his secretary of agriculture to continue to implement the bill, which he supported, in the manner in which Congress intended.”

Lincoln said she is trying to be “a leading voice” in helping President Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and her colleagues understand the complexity of Southern agriculture and how the 2008 farm bill is critical for U.S. consumers to continue to the cheapest food and fiber in the world.

“The farm bill is critically important to producers of Southern commodities in the Delta region,” Lincoln said. “The bill ensures that they have the tools to produce an affordable, safe, and abundant food and fiber supply, upon which our nation and the world depend.”

Although the Obama administration has proposed eliminating direct payments to producers with gross revenues of more than $500,000 and placing a strict cap of $250,000 on farm program payments to help reduce the federal budget deficit, Lincoln said the House and Senate must continue to resist those changes.

“The farm bill is a contract the federal government has made with producers to provide them with a safety net,” she said. “Changing the rules before the farm bill is fully implemented is not fair to those producers or to the institutions that provide them with the capital they need to continue to farm in this economic environment.”

In her speech, Lincoln said initiatives in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (federal stimulus package) will help create jobs and make investments in rural infrastructure projects of particular importance to the Delta, including broadband technology, school construction, highways, bridges, and flood controls.

“The stimulus package is targeted, timely and temporary,” she said, noting it also includes critical support for the U.S. farm raised catfish industry, which is a significant employer throughout the Delta and is in a period of economic distress due to high input costs and imports of foreign-raised catfish.

Following Lincoln’s speech, outgoing Delta Council President John Phillips introduced Travis Satterfield, a rice and soybean farmer from Benoit, Miss., as the next president of the Delta Council. Satterfield will serve as president until next year’s annual meeting.

email: flaws@farmpress.com