Many farmers in America are feeling a sense of betrayal right now. What transpired over the last month of the Bush administration could best be described as a slap in the face to the U.S farming community.

It began the day after Christmas when farmers all over America began receiving letters from USDA’s Farm Service Agency explaining that any federally-owned land they leased “will have base acres terminated effective for the 2009 crop year unless that land is subject to a lease agreement which was executed before Dec. 23, 2008, and is in effect beyond the 2009 crop year.”

USDA took advantage of a rule written way back in the 1996 farm bill and carried over in every farm bill since which states, “The owner of a farm may reduce, at any time, the base acres for any covered commodity for the farm.”

USDA inexplicably and unexpectedly applied the rule to itself, and in December 2008 it became a permanent rule in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.

We can’t put a name on exactly who or what in USDA is responsible for this, because it was done in secrecy without an opportunity for comment or reflection.

It was also accomplished with little regard for the risk and perspiration farmers put into establishing bases on the land, some of which has been farmed for several generations.

Perhaps we have a new bureaucracy in Washington — the Department of the Ulterior. If so, shameless scheming is its mandate.

For example, Dec. 23, 2008, the cutoff date for signing leases under the new rule, occurred several days before farmers received their letters. It couldn’t have been timed any better to insure that farmers with expiring leases did not have time to put together new leases to farm the land in 2009.

Several farmers losing bases in 2009 had booked inputs to be used on the land. Some had sold a portion of the crop they expected to plant on it. By secretly passing this law and/or delaying its announcement, the Ulterior Department is not just attempting to cut costs, folks, they are intent on inflicting damage. At the very least, it demonstrates contempt for agriculture at the highest levels of the government.

The schemers also figured the leased land issue would be obscured by the cloud of a new administration’s first months in office. They also knew that an economic stimulus package would steal political thunder from the troubles of farmers.

Farmers are starting to form groups to initiate debate on the rule and its ramifications. Congress and the Obama administration need to know that the economic impact will reach far into rural communities. Since land owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also affected, there could also be an adverse impact on federally-owned land that farmers prepare for wildlife as part of their farming lease.

We can begin by informing the new president that the easiest way to jumpstart the economy is to insure that every farmer in rural America is financially viable. Repeal the rule eliminating bases on federal lands.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com