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Debate intensifies over federal budget cuts to agriculture

DANIEL LOOKER Updated: 10/18/2011 @ 2:34pm Business Editor

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), a veteran member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told Agriculture.com Tuesday how he expects proposed cuts to USDA spending to break down when his committee and the House Agriculture Committee release details to Congress’s deficit-trimming Super Committee on November 1.

Yesterday both committees announced that they’re proposing that the Super Committee cut farm bill spending by $23 billion over 10 years.

Grassley said that the ag committees are looking at cutting commodity programs by $15 billion, food stamps by $4 billion and conservation programs by $4 billion.

“This is all very fluid,” he cautioned, however.  Not only could the mix shift some, but the ag committees are looking for a larger amount of cuts, in the range of $25 billion to $25.5 billion, so that the extra funds could be used to extend new programs in the 2008 Farm Bill that have no funding after 2012. Those new programs amount to about $9 billion in spending and they include the 2008 Farm Bill's new energy title used to support experimental biofuels, a program Grassley said interests him.

Like other members of the ag committees, Grassley hopes the Super Committee (officially called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction) will leave the details of writing a farm bill to them.

“It’s important that agriculture make solid recommendations to make sure that those who know farm policy have a seat at the table,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Grassley and Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) have also written the 12-member Super Committee to place a hard cap on farm program payments in the next farm bill, which they say would save another $1.5 billion. 

Grassley and Johnson introduced legislation to do that on June 9, 2011.  Their bill would set a limit of $250,000 for married couples for farm payments in an attempt to better target farm program payments to family farmers.  Specifically, the bill caps direct payments at $40,000; counter-cyclical payments at $60,000; and marketing loan gains (including forfeitures), loan deficiency payments, and commodity certificates at $150,000.  The bill also improves the standard which the Department of Agriculture uses to determine farmers who are actively engaged in their operations.

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