National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson and National Corn Growers Association CEO Rick Tolman took part in a Farm Bill panel Wednesday at the International Sweetener Symposium sponsored by the American Sugar Alliance. Johnson noted that the 2012 Farm Bill will face a number of hurdles including the budget situation. He said while the passage of the debt ceiling bill should help provide a better idea of the dollars the Agriculture Committees will have to write the legislation, only time will tell exactly how much they have to write the next Farm Bill. But one thing is certain, less money will be available. Johnson and Tolman agree that's why it's critical for the ag community to come together and work together to ensure farmers are recognized and the Farm Bill has everything they need.
Johnson believes a strong safety net is one of the most essential things that must be included in any farm bill. He says the SURE Program has no funding baseline past this year. Another 36 farm bill programs including four other disaster programs, have no funding past next year. Johnson says it's important that SURE and other disaster programs get the funding they need. He pointed out that the federal government made $30 billion in emergency payments to farmers and ranchers between 1996 and 2002 because the safety net was cut from the 1996 Farm Bill in a time of high prices and said we must not repeat that mistake. Johnson quoted an $8.9 billion price tag for extending SURE and other disaster programs for five years and said in the long run including disaster programs in the farm bill is cost effective.
Tolman focused on the benefits of programs like ACRE and looked at the essential function of programs such as crop insurance. To provide perspective to the role of agriculture in the greater overall budget debate, Tolman led off by explaining how, in the last five years, spending on agricultural programs has accounted for less than half a percent of the overall federal budget. This fact is especially essential to any background understanding of agriculture's role in budget negotiations, considering spending in this area has remained stable over the past two decades while total federal spending has tripled.