Texas agriculture stakeholders prepare for federal farm program cuts

AUSTIN – Texas agriculture stakeholders are bracing for cuts in federal farm programs as part of the 2012 Farm Bill, but there’s overwhelming consensus for continuation of support programs to protect against multi-year price declines, unforeseen weather events and rising input costs, according to industry representatives.

Agriculture leaders met in Austin recently at the 2011 Ag Forum to discuss potential implications to the state’s food and fiber production system.

“We’ve been engaged in this farm bill as much as we have ever been,” said Dr. Joe Outlaw, Texas AgriLife Extension Service economist and co-director of the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University.

Dr. Joe Outlaw

Dr. Joe Outlaw, Texas AgriLife Extension Service economist and co-director of the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University, moderates 2012 Farm Bill discussions at the recent Ag Forum in Austin. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Blair Fannin)

Though a typical farm bill debate would last several months, a Dec. 23 deadline is in place for Congress to adopt new farm legislation, part of an overall package aimed at cutting $1.2 trillion from government spending, Outlaw said. More than $23 billion in cuts would be made in all, with $15 billion out of commodity programs, $6 billion from conservation and $2 billion from nutrition programs.

A new revenue assistance program would end the existing $5 billion-a-year direct farm payment subsidy.  The revenue assistance program would assist farmers during years of “shallow losses” due to poor yields, low commodity prices or a combination as part of a new baseline for the federal farm program.

    Cuts also would be made to land stewardship programs and federal crop insurance programs.

The forum featured a panel of industry and stakeholder participants who voiced reaction and concerns.

“This is not a typical farm bill,” said Wayne Cleveland, executive director of the Texas Sorghum Producers. “We want to see crop insurance go on for our growers. It’s what has kept our guys in business through the past several years. Crop insurance is something you’ve got to have to keep moving forward.”

“It seems like a lot of decisions will be made where there’s no debate by stakeholders,” said Jeff Nunley, executive director of the South Texas Cotton and Grain Association.

Jim Sartwelle, public policy director for Texas Farm Bureau, said, “if we had 15 months to discuss this, we could really get a revenue program together.”

Industry leaders said they’re looking to protect Texas farmers in the years ahead, especially during times of historic drought and economic uncertainty.

Ultimately, the fate of new farm legislation is in the hands of a 12-member “super committee” made up of House and Senate agriculture committee leaders. They will present a package containing proposed new farm legislation by Nov. 23 and Congress must adopt the plan by Dec. 23, otherwise automatic rescissions from existing farm programs, such as direct payments and crop insurance, go into effect.

Participants say the forum was a good sounding board to hear both positives and negatives about the nation’s farming system and how it affects Texas agriculture.

Bill Kubecka

Bill Kubecka, chair of the Texas Ag Forum and a sorghum producer from Palacios, told forum attendees the timing of the event is 'very important.' Participants said the forum was a good sounding board to hear both positives and negatives about the nation’s farming system and how it affects Texas agriculture. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Blair Fannin)

“The timing of this event is very important,” said Bill Kubecka, chair of the Texas Ag Forum and a sorghum producer from Palacios. “One thing is this event doesn’t happen by itself. Dr. Outlaw and the group from AgriLife do an outstanding job for us. We (are thankful) for the support of Dr. Mark Hussey, Dr. Ed Smith and AgriLife.”
Smith, who has announced his retirement as director of AgriLife Extension scheduled for late summer 2012, received special recognition from the Ag Forum steering committee and participants.

The Texas Ag Forum is as an association of agricultural leaders and representatives from across the Texas food and fiber system. It was founded more than 20 years ago to provide a forum for open and public discussion of the problems and emerging issues in agriculture. It is a stakeholder-driven program in partnership with AgriLife Extension.

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