They aren’t your common, garden-variety farm organizations, but the 116 groups that sent a letter to House leaders requesting more money for the new farm bill could prove to be valuable allies – or foes – for farmers.

The groups, which run the gamut from the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association to World Hunger Year, asked that Congress restore $6 billion in budget cuts made to the conservation, rural development, energy and research titles of the current farm bill since 2002.

The groups also asked that budget savings from higher than expected corn, wheat and soybean prices be reinvested in new programs aimed at meeting several challenges listed by the groups in their letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairman and ranking members of the House Agriculture and Budget committees.

“Renewal of the farm program this year creates a singular opportunity to reform our farm and food policies to better meet America’s economic, energy, environment, hunger and health challenges and take advantage of emerging opportunities,” the letter said.

The groups say the budget resolution Congress is expected to pass within the next two months should provide for substantially more farm bill funding than either the current funding baseline or the $500 million increase over the current baseline proposed by the Bush administration.

The Congressional Budget Office baseline for commodity program spending from 2007-15 is $41 billion or 29 percent less than it was the similar period covered by the 2002 farm bill, primarily because lower spending for counter-cyclical and loan deficiency payments produced savings.

Two major points

“The entire food and agriculture community is speaking with one voice on the big picture farm bill budget question,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which spearheaded the letter. He said the groups are making two points:

“First, the severe cuts made by the past two Congresses to conservation stewardship, rural economic development, energy conservation and production, and agricultural research spending promised by the last farm bill should be restored. Second, promising new initiatives to address emerging challenges should be the recipient of the substantial farm commodity program budget savings that will occur due to current higher market prices.”

Hoefner said the budget letter is an outgrowth of a new alliance that rolled out its ideas under the umbrella of the newly organized Farm and Food Policy Project, which can be seen at http://www.farmandfoodproject.org/declaration.asp.

Among the priorities for adequate funding cited by the groups signing the budget letter:

-- Fostering new farming opportunities.

-- Expanding new markets.

-- Leveling the playing field for sustainable and organic farmers.

-- Increasing food access and improving health.

-- Reducing hunger.

-- Promoting rural entrepreneurship and community development.

-- Rewarding farmers to help meet the nation’s most pressing environmental and animal welfare challenges.

-- Investing in sustainable farm-based energy conservation and production systems.

-- Ensuring fair access to programs and services for socially disadvantaged farmers and farm workers.

Funding cuts

“Unfortunately, since passage of the last farm bill, more than $6 billion in promised mandatory funding has been cut from the conservation, rural development, energy, and research titles,” the letter said.

“These funds should be fully restored, and, given the very substantial budgetary savings that will result from changes in the farm economy and increased demand for biofuels, we request that you adopt mandatory farm bill spending levels and discretionary spending levels that reinvest the savings to meet these priority challenges.”

Among the groups signing the letter were the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Farm Aid, National Wildlife Federation, Bread for the World, Organic Farming Research Foundation, Rural Coalition, Iowa Farmers Union, Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Crop Science Society of America, Center for Rural Affairs, Natural Resources Defense Council, Intertribal Agriculture Council, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, National Audubon Society, the Northeast-Midwest Institute and American Farmland Trust.

email: flaws@farmpress.com