With the current budget chopping going on in Washington D.C., some benefit recipients may be hit harder than others. For example, agriculture support payments for farmers may lose more than their fair share.
Most farmers realize that support payments will suffer cutbacks but are willing to accept them as a necessary part of an overall reduction in the nation’s out-of-control spending. Many farmers also fear that cuts in agriculture support will be disproportionately higher than other government programs.
Budget negotiators are looking at pruning three areas of agriculture support. The programs include direct payments to farmers, crop insurance and disaster payments, as well as incentives for conservation of wildlife habitat.
To some extent, the very success of U.S. farmers is working against them in this case. Since farmers are so efficient and productive, there are fewer of them because each one produces more food than ever. Even though agriculture support payments total less than one half of one percent of overall federal spending, debt ceiling negotiators will likely cut deeply without the fear of facing a large number of disenchanted voters.
Adding to the problem is the fact that few of the negotiators are sensitive to farming, and unconcerned about the potential damage to the nation’s food production ability.
Collin Peterson, (D-Minn.), ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, has warned negotiators of consequences of budget cuts to ag programs that go too deep. “Negotiators need to be careful because they might come back with something they cannot pass,” he said in a recent interview.
Peterson is concerned because the House leadership is not consulting Agriculture Committee members on budget cuts aimed at agriculture supports even though they are just a blip on the radar in terms of spending.
Some believe that farmers are harvesting huge government windfalls at taxpayer expense. A quick look at some facts tells a different story. According to USDA, only about 37 percent of all U.S. farms received government payments in calendar year 2009. Payments averaged $11,549 for those operations receiving payments, which accounted for 5.5 percent of their gross income and 23.6 percent of net income for those farms. These are not exactly exorbitant levels.
Another common misconception is that big corporations run most U.S. farms. Fact is, nearly all farms (97 percent in 2009) are family farms-- one in which the majority of the ownership of the farm business is held by related individuals.
Few industries face the potential weather catastrophes confronted by farmers each year a crop is planted. This year alone, drought and flooding have taken their toll in billions of dollars. If programs that help farmers survive these disasters are cut too deep, expect food prices to rise even more dramatically than they already have.
Food security is an issue to an ever-increasing number of people right here in the United States and our support of farmers at this critical time is essential. Plus, the United Nations says world food production must double by 2050 to sustain a projected population of 9 billion.
Budget negotiators would be wise to keep in mind that America's farmers are the world's most productive. Today, each U.S. farmer produces food and fiber for 155 people in the United States and abroad. Helping to preserve the viability of world’s most productive farmers, and the food security of U.S. citizens, is an excellent investment.
American farmers are the backbone of our abundant and affordable food production system. They are not looking to escape the inevitable reductions necessary to bring the nation’s spending under control. It is crucial to our national food security however, that we give them a fair shake.