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When congressional agriculture committees start hammering out details of the 2012 farm bill, “We aren’t going to be able to just make a carbon copy of the 2008 legislation,” says Tara Smith, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.““We’re facing by far the worst budget situation we’ve ever been in when writing a farm bill, and I think this will dominate the discussions."
Many challenges facing agriculture funding
The budget situation is going to pose a lot of challenges for agriculture in devising a new farm bill, Smith says. Among the questions:
• Is the SURE (Supplemental Revenue Assistance) disaster program worth saving?
“I think I know the opinion of Farm Bureau’s membership. We just went through our annual meeting and came up with sort of a wish list of things we’d like in the new farm bill — and I can tell you, SURE was not on that list.
“But I expect Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Jim Miller, who wrote the program and just left USDA to go back to Sen. Conrad’s office to help write the farm bill, will want to save that program. There’s going to be a battle over saving SURE and where the money will come from, $5 billion over five years.
“One of the biggest beneficiaries of SURE is Iowa, but even they have been less than happy with the program. There was a problem with the calculation of payments, and we’ve had farmers in Iowa getting notices from the government that say, ‘You have to pay back $60,000 or $70,000 in SURE payments and, oh, by the way, you have to pay it within 30 days with interest.’
“The program works OK if you buy high levels of crop insurance and you only grow one or two crops. But if you’re a diversified farmer and you don’t buy a lot of crop insurance, it’s just not going to work.”
• “Are you willing to give up direct payments? If so, how much are you willing to give up? Where do you want the money to go if we can save it?
• “There’s talk of improving the ACRE (Average Crop Revenue Election) program to try and attract more farmers, particularly southern farmers. Is that even possible? If so, where do we get the money?
• “There’s going to be a lot of discussion, I think, about fairness — fairness to different commodities, fairness to different regions of the country.
“And as we’re engaged in all these discussions,” Smith says, “we’re going to have the Brazil cotton case hanging over us, as well as WTO compliance.”