“Cuts were also announced for agricultural research efforts and the Commodity Credit Corporation. Removing these dollars from the baseline for the next farm bill will make the legislation even more difficult to write. Investments in a stable and secure food, fiber and energy supply ought to be of the utmost importance because these investments create a thriving rural economy and are critically important to our national security.”

Seeking “balance”

During a conference call with reporters, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack repeatedly justified Obama’s budget approach as seeking “balance.”

Vilsack was reminded that major U.S. commodity groups oppose a means test for farm payments.

“In terms of the means test, this is the reality,” said Vilsack. “You have on the one hand, a national consensus — Republican, Democrat, independent, whatever — that we have to get the deficit under control. So, you’ve got to make some tough choices and decisions about precisely where you can look at reductions.

“At the same time, there is an acknowledgment of the need, based on the fact that in certain commodity circumstances or certain areas of the country or certain size operations are struggling or having greater difficulty than the general ag economy. So, you do need a safety net, you do need loan programs, you do need crop insurance programs, you do need disaster programs, and, to a certain extent, you need some kind of payment structure.

“The question is: who should get those payments given the current … reality of a very strong ag economy, generally – particularly for larger producers – with cotton prices up, with corn and bean prices up, wheat prices relatively strong? Who should receive the benefit of those payments?

“Budgets are a series of tough choices. And this budget is one of the toughest budgets all of us have faced.”

There was no counter-cyclical payment in 2010 and the money allocated wasn’t spent. How will such unspent funds be tallied?

“The counter-cyclical (situation) reflects the reality … in the 2011 circumstance. We don’t have a budget yet in 2011 so it’s kind of tough to compare the current year because we flat-out don’t have a budget.

“But the budget we’re proposing doesn’t provide for any counter-cyclical payments based on where commodity prices, and so forth, are.”