Having recently returned from visiting with our legislators and their staff on Capitol Hill, I believe it is important that all producers remain current on the potential impact that any budget cuts might have on agricultural programs. The following information is taken from talking points prepared by National Association of Wheat Growers and submitted to our legislators.
Regarding the federal budget…
• Totaling only one-fourth of 1 percent of the federal budget, agriculture’s safety net of direct payment, crop insurance and conservation programs protects a viable and prosperous agricultural economy.
• Crop insurance took a $4 billion hit in the last 2010 renegotiation of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement. We urge our legislators to acknowledge this before they consider any further cuts in this important program.
• We urge our legislators to continue reinvesting in USDA foreign market development programs. A recent study of wheat promotion activities shows producer dollars, combined with MAP (Market Access Programs) and FMD, returns $115 to the economy for every $1 spent.
• Each dollar spent on public agricultural research returns about $10 worth of benefits to the economy. However, federal funding for research, extension and education has been essentially flat for more than 20 years.
• We urge legislators to support funding for the USDA’s competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, at the fully authorized level as soon as possible.
• We urge legislators to support funding for USDA’s Agricultural Research service, which is engaged in critical areas of research related to plant diseases, insect pests and quality.
Regarding EPA regulation…
• We oppose EPA’s action to reduce current maximum particulate matter standards by half, which would put virtually every part of the country into a potentially highly-regulated non-attainment zone.
• We support Holden-Goodlate legislation to create a framework for regulating pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay region without unnecessarily burdening farmers with mandatory nutrient run-off requirements.
(My note: If the EPA is successful in implementing the Chesapeake Bay region regulations and there is no intervention by Congress to halt this, their plan is to include the entire Mississippi River Basin under this regulation, severely restricting fertilizer applications, threatening the financial viability of the entire industry.)
• We urge legislators to work for a legislative solution to correct a judicial decision that requires producers to obtain a pollution discharge permit before applying a pesticide.
• Opening new markets for wheat abroad helps U.S. farmers and the overall U.S. economy. International trade of wheat alone provided $5.9 billion to the U.S. economy in FY2010, contributing to our nation’s $29.7 billion agricultural trade surplus—one of the bright spots for our country’s trade balance.
• We urge our legislators to approve the pending free-trade agreement with South Korea.
• We urge the administration to complete and send to Congress pending free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, which will lead to millions in new sales and preserve market share for America’s wheat producers.
• We encourage further development of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a favorable outcome for the WTO Doha Round.
In a radio interview for the Oklahoma Farm Report back in November 2010, economist Barry Flinchbaugh summarizes the current budget crisis in Washington in blunt, easy to understand terms: Agriculture’s portion of the multi-trillion dollar budget is so small, that it’s “rounding error.”
Flinchbaugh reports agriculture’s share of the budget has already been reduced by two-thirds, adding, “One cannot solve the budget crisis with waste and fraud and farm program payments.”
There’s just not enough to make up for the trillions spent by other components, like defense, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on public debt.
Farmers understand the necessity of a balanced budget. We live with that reality every day while working to make a sustainable living. We also understand that putting America’s federal fiscal house in order requires everyone, including agriculture, to make financial sacrifices.
However, a common-sense approach to problem solving suggests all programs must make equivalent sacrifices as well.
If cuts are necessary, they must be equitable and proportionate to each program’s impact on the total budget.