With skyrocketing input costs and the volatility of prices in world markets, farmers need the “protection and peace of mind” of a farm program safety net, says Carlisle Clarke, agriculture liaison for Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

“They need this so they can continue to provide food security for the U.S. and to supply the export demands of a growing world population,” he said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Agricultural Economics Association at Mississippi State University.

But, he cautioned, with farm commodity prices having hit record highs in recent years, and with the federal government facing record deficits, “in this fiscal environment, we have something of a perfect storm for opponents of production agriculture to target all of our programs for cuts.”

The 12-member bipartisan Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, tasked with coming up with $1.2 trillion in federal budget cuts, “has been very tight-lipped from the beginning” about the extent of cuts for various programs, including agriculture, Clarke says.

“We in agriculture, like everyone on all the congressional other committees, have been wondering how much we’re going to be expected to give up.”

The Obama administration, he says, issued a proposal that would lop $33 billion from agriculture spending, coming from commodity, conservation, and crop insurance titles.

“The agriculture committees have been wondering what number the Joint Committee is looking for, but we’ve had no feedback.”

Chairmen and co-chairmen of House and Senate Agriculture Committees were asked to submit by October 15 a letter citing the amount to come out of their respective jurisdictions, Clarke says. “The number they came up with was $23 billion.”

Of that, he says, the consensus was that commodity titles would have to give up anywhere from $14 billion to $16 billion.

A concern in the budget-cutting process, he says, is the makeup of the Joint Committee — of the 12 members, only one is a member of an agriculture committee, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. (D)

“Two years ago, on the Senate Agriculture Committee, we had the chairman and ranking member representing southern states. Today we have neither.

“That’s a concern, too, because it’s still not clear if there will be any type of hearings, markups, or public settings where members outside the four committee principals — none of whom represent southern agriculture — will get to weigh in with recommendations for policy changes.

“We, as Republicans and representatives of southern states, have emphasized that we need to provide producer flexibility as a policy option. If we’re truly going to make a proposal that’s equitable for all regions, we need producer flexibility.”

The Joint Committee has until Nov. 23 to issue their proposal for the target of $1.2 trillion in cuts, Clarke notes.

“Agriculture is such a small component of federal spending, and there are more sensitive issues that have to be addressed, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Tax Reform.