As bad as fiscal 2011 federal budget cuts were, 2012 could be even worse — “cuts will be much deeper under all the proposals we’ve seen,” says Chip Morgan, executive vice president of the Delta Council.

“I don’t know if our friends on the agriculture committees in Congress have the stomach to write a farm law in such a bad fiscal environment, so it may be later than expected, before they actually get around to it,” he said at the annual meeting of the Delta Council/Southern Cotton Ginners Association’s Ginning and Cotton Quality Improvement Committee. “If they extend the present law, they will be forced to mandate cuts across all spending accounts.”

The fiscal 2012 budget in the House would cut $30 billion from commodity programs and crop insurance, $18 billion from conservation, and $127 billion from nutrition programs — a total of a little less than 15 percent for all three, Morgan says.

“In my 37 years with Delta Council, the fiscal outlook for writing a farm bill is about as bleak as I’ve ever seen for southern agriculture.”

Entitlement programs and defense take about 82 percent of the total federal budget, Morgan notes, and “farm programs are a drop in the ocean in comparison to the costs of those programs.

“One issue that is absolutely going to influence congressional attitudes about the 2012 farm bill is that, in recent years, we’ve had the biggest commodity price increases in history.

“The perception in Washington is that everyone’s selling cotton for $1.40, and with such high prices for commodities today, there’s no reason to have farm programs.”

The federal budget is “what’s driving the train in Washington,” Morgan says, and “we can expect cuts to agriculture in the budget reconciliation process. When we hear that a debt ceiling has been agreed to, the waves will start coming in as to the cuts we can expect in fiscal 2012. From what we’re seeing, it looks like we’re facing about $10 billion in cuts to agriculture next year.”

The likelihood of Congress doing much on the farm bill this year is slim, “unless something dramatic happens. Our friends in the House are carefully monitoring whether it is a good time to begin farm bill debate.”