The plot thickens in the farm bill saga, although one economist stresses we are far from a final version of the legislation.

What is certain is that the current debate reflects the deep ideological difference that has intensified among policy makers in the last two decades, says James Novak, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agricultural economist and Auburn University professor of agricultural economics.

Late in 2011, the House and Senate Agricultural Committees’ leadership put together a “2011 farm bill” that reportedly would have resulted in modest cuts to farm programs. However, Novak says this bill “died on the vine and the contents were never made public.”

In 2012, the House voted on and passed the 2013 House Budget Resolution (the so-called Ryan plan) with what is estimated to be slightly more than $181 billion cuts in agricultural programs in a 10-year period. Among numerous cost-cutting provisions in this bill, direct payments would be reduced by 33 percent, saving a projected $12 billion.

Crop insurance premium subsidies would be capped at the 75 percent coverage level, saving an estimated $15.5 billion. Commodity export programs would be reduced by more than $3.5 billion.

Conservation cuts include caps on CRP enrollment and the elimination of the CSP program for $16 billion in savings.  

Food and nutrition programs did not escape the budget ax. Under the plan, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) would be administered through block grants to the states, saving an estimated $122.5 billion.

Many policy makers assume that cuts in traditional farm support programs would be accompanied by a greater emphasis on crop insurance and risk management protection, but this doesn’t appear to be the case, Novak says.