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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."
Conservation programs likely facing cuts
Spending on conservation programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and others is about $65 billion, Smith notes.
“I think we’ll see conservation on the table this time when they’re looking for things to cut. We’ve seen large increases in spending for conservation programs over the last decade or so; I think that kind of growth is going to be tough to maintain and that we’ll see some cuts.”
Six months ago, she says, there was a lot of talk about starting to write the farm bill in 2011.
“Chairman Peterson talked about wanting to start drafting language in May or June, but given the changes we had in the November elections, I think that just isn’t realistic.
“I expect were going to see a lot of time spent with hearings in 2011 and that they won’t really start writing the farm bill until 2012 — which is going to be a tough environment, given that it’s an election year, and a presidential election year at that.
“We have new chairs and new ranking members for both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, and that’s going to slow things in terms of the new farm bill, particularly on the Senate side, where they haven’t even started hiring staff.”
On the House side, Smith says, there’s already staff in place, but there are a lot of new members coming in.
“The majority of the Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee are new to Congress and lot of time will be spent in 2011 educating them on procedures and on the farm bill, plus holding hearings on the farm bill.”