In his opening statement at the ag program audit held by a House Ag Subcommittee Wednesday House Agricultural Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said that along with crop insurance, Title I programs form the very fabric of the farm safety net, ensuring that dramatic swings in commodity prices and volatile weather don't put America's farmers and ranchers out of business. Lucas noted that producers not only engage in a risky industry, but must significantly leverage their assets to do so, borrowing more money each year than most of us will borrow in a lifetime.
Lucas added that farmers put in hard labor every day. As they do the hard work of producing our food, he says the government must do its part to support them. He said a few bad seasons can put a farm out of business if there's no safety net. And when a source of production is lost, he said we don't typically get it back. So instead of speaking about the farm bill as a farm safety net, Lucas believes we should start calling it a food safety net. Perhaps that, he said, would get the message out that commodity support keeps farmers in business and food on our plates. According to Lucas, farmers and ranchers are not asking for a handout, but need a floor in place for when the bottom drops out. He said crop insurance and Title I programs provide that floor - and a safety net for food production.
In this time of tight budgets, big deficits and a search for savings - Lucas argued there aren't enormous savings to be found from cutting farm programs. He said they comprise less than one-half of one percent of the federal budget, just 50 cents for every $100. He admitted the ag community will have to accept budget cuts, but said they shouldn't take a disproportional hit. Lucas said the Ag Committee is prepared to reduce spending, and the audits help them determine the best places to trim the budget and streamline programs.
Lucas suggested there may be ways to improve the ACRE program; noted the SURE program hasn't worked the way many had hoped and doesn't have a budgetary baseline once the 2008 Farm Bill expires; and questioned if the three-legged stool of direct payments, the counter-cyclical program and marketing loan assistance need to be updated to reflect new trends in prices. But Lucas also said it's important to look at the repercussions of eliminating programs.
Lucas said understanding the true costs and benefits of Title I programs will help the Ag Committee develop a better Farm Bill.