The agriculture community took a number of important steps toward a 2012 farm bill this week, with commodity groups meeting in Washington to discuss the issues and the Senate Agriculture Committee announcing a hearing schedule.



Farmer and staff leaders of 13 commodity groups met in Washington, D.C. Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 to build relationships and consensus around farm policy priorities. 

At the session, they confirmed their commitment to work together in the coming process and their common belief that a new farm bill should be completed this year to provide certainty to farmers and the industries they support. 



“American agriculture stands out as one of the few sectors of the economy that has, throughout the economic downturn, still contributed positively to our nation’s balance of trade while helping to create jobs and put this country back on its economic feet,” the groups said in a joint statement following the meeting. 
 


“And we have accomplished these things with a farm policy that also stands out as consistently under budget over the past 10 years and for leading the way on deficit reduction, contributing disproportionately and, in some cases, even alone, in the effort to get our nation’s fiscal house in order.
 


“The economy is fragile, unemployment is high, and Americans are worried. Given the need for economic growth and deficit reduction, for our part, we have offered to do more with less. If Washington provides America’s farmers and ranchers with some certainty, we can continue to help lead our nation’s economic recovery.”



The groups with leadership in the sessions represent the vast majority of commodity producers who participate in programs offered under Title I of the 2008 farm bill. 



They included NAWG, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Barley Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, National Farmers Union, National Sorghum Producers, National Sunflower Association, Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, US Canola Association, USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council and USA Rice Federation.



Senate schedule announced

On Feb. 1, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) announced her committee will hold four hearings in February and March on farm bill issues. 



A hearing set for Feb. 15 will cover energy issues; a hearing set for Feb. 29 will cover conservation issues; a hearing set for March 14 will cover nutrition issues; and a hearing set for March 21 will tackle what is expected to be the biggest road block to quick completion of the bill, risk management and commodity title policies. 



The committee announcement said witness lists and times will be released at a later date.

It is widely expected the Senate committee will complete its work on a new farm bill first, perhaps before the work of the House Agriculture Committee officially begins.



Farm bill watchers got another piece of interesting data this week from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which provides the official estimates, or scores, of costs associated with proposed government programs. 



In its Budget and Economic Outlook, released Jan. 31, CBO said mandatory spending for agricultural support is expected to rise very slightly and remain stable over the next 10 years, accounting for $15 billion in 2011 and a projected average of $16 billion per year between 2012 and 2022.

In 2013, CBO suggested mandatory agriculture spending will fall to about $13 billion. 



By contrast, mandatory spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, came to about $77 billion per year in 2011, and is projected to remain in that range through 2022.

CBO’s projections of farm policy spending will be essential components of finalizing a farm bill in 2012, as overall program spending is expected to decline, putting pressure on policy makers to design a better safety net with ever-fewer dollars. 



The Obama Administration is scheduled to release its budget proposal in mid-February, which will begin official budget discussions for the coming fiscal year. 



More on the planned Senate Agriculture hearings is at http://ag.senate.gov.



The full commodity group joint statement is available at http://www.wheatworld.org/news-events/2012/02/commodity-group-release-statement-following-joint-meeting/