Passing the 2002 Farm Bill was tough, but according to an influential member of the House Agriculture Committee, developing the next farm bill may be even more difficult.

During his address at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 86th annual meeting, Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) says the federal budget deficit poses the most formidable obstacle. The goal of reducing the deficit will make it hard to maintain funding for agriculture programs, and substantially less money might be authorized for the next farm bill.

“Unfortunately, many members of Congress do not see farming and ranching as something they are interested in,” says Moran. “We have an urban Congress that sees agricultural spending as the place where the budget can be cut.”

These lawmakers have an “image of tremendous spending in agriculture,” he explains. But the current farm bill earmarks just 16 percent of its funding as payments to farmers. “Most of the money is for nutrition programs,” adds Moran.

He urged farmers to collaborate on developing a clear explanation of why specific farm programs should be maintained. In addition, they must explain why a national farm policy that stabilizes food and fiber production provides benefits for everyone.

“You have to say the same thing over and over until that message is received,” he adds. “The best way to begin the explanation is by meeting with members of Congress who represent you.”

Moran, chairman of the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee, says the 2002 farm bill was developed when the federal budget contained a slight budget surplus. He notes cuts must be made in farm spending in the next bill, as well as in other line items of the federal budget. He predicts that Congress will likely cut funding for traditional commodity programs, yet maintain or boost dollars targeted for conservation.

Cuts in farm spending probably won’t achieve much in balancing the budget. He notes that eliminating current farm programs, which distribute money to producers, would only cut $18 billion annually—barely a dent in the deficit.

An emerging world market has further complicated the process of devising a farm bill. Disputes over agricultural trade are inevitable. Current disagreements before the World Trade Organization only point toward change, he says.

Moran assured the audience that farmers and ranchers would have many opportunities to participate in the development of the new farm bill.