The first field hearing in preparation for the 2012 Farm Bill negotiations was held at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., on Tuesday. The session was entitled “Opportunities for Growth, Michigan and the 2012 Farm Bill,” and was orchestrated by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate agriculture committee.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)  the committee’s ranking member, shared comments with the attendees.  “As I’ve said before agriculture faces a great challenge. Global population continues to grow at a rapid pace…exceeding 9 billion in the next several decades. That’s a lot of bellies to feed,” Roberts said. “Emerging economies are demanding higher value proteins, grains and specialty crops. To meet this demand, agriculture must double output.”

Technology is key to that effort, Roberts said, as are land-grant universities and other institutions where agriculture research is a priority.

Of course on Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee's agriculture subcommittee took it’s own action related to agriculture research. The subcommittee approved its version of the Fiscal Year 2012 funding bill, cutting more than $2.5 billion (13 percent) from USDA's reduced Fiscal Year 2011 allocation.

The most alarming of the cuts occurred in the research budget, which was cut 13.7 percent from Fiscal Year 2011’s level. If those cuts become law, federally funded agriculture research would drop by about 20 percent or more than $600 million, from 2010’s level, at a time when food security becomes more important worldwide.

“Some folks question the need for a Farm Bill with commodity prices where they are today,” he told attendees. “I don’t have to tell this crowd that prices can fall much more quickly than they rise. Without an adequate safety net many producers will struggle to secure operating loans and lines of credit to cover input and equipment costs. We need those producers to stay in business if we’re going to meet this global challenge.”

He acknowledged that federal regulations are increasingly impacting farm businesses and their ability to produce. “Kansas producers continue to tell me that federal regulations from outside USDA pose just as great a threat to their ability to feed a troubled and hungry world as anything else. “In a time when the future of agriculture production so heavily impacts our national security, why would we do anything from the federal government standpoint to hinder their efforts?”