A robust U.S. agricultural industry leads the way in the country's economic recovery – and is one of the reasons writing a 2010 farm bill will be fraught with difficulty.
"This is going to be the most difficult farm bill that we've ever had to write," U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said on Sunday, opening day of the 92nd American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Ga.,
Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman is looking to the membership to give "clear direction" on what they want to see in the farm bill. Farm Bureau members on Tuesday will move from listening to speeches to writing policy for the 6.2-million member organization.
Farm Bureau members, known for their conservative leadership, must remember when considering farm bill provisions that the national debt is over $14 trillion dollars and fiscal responsibility begins as home, Stallman said.
"Hard choices will have to be made. Demanding a balanced budget, with no new taxes, and cutting government programs for everyone else while asking that more be spent on our concerns will not be well-accepted as a solution," Stallman said.
Knowing what to forego and what to demand as farm bill negotiations intensify requires Farm Bureau leadership have clear direction from the membership, Stallman said.
Stallman said: "Before we leave Atlanta we need clear answers to some of these questions: What role should direct payments, revenue insurance and disaster provisions play in providing a basic economic safety net for America's farm and ranch families? What is the most effective and equitable way to use scarce government dollars? And, perhaps most fundamental of all, what should be the role of government farm policy in the 21st Century?"
Chambliss offered an answer to that last question that brought enthusiastic applause and a few whistles: "Get the federal government out of your way and let you provide the finest agricultural products anywhere in the world."
Figuring out how to do that in an historically debt-ridden period for our government while agriculture shows economic strength will be a bit more difficult.
In the national capital, Stallman said, budget and deficit concerns will drive the farm bill debate more than ever before.
"Quite frankly, they should," Stallman said. "But we also know the historic and stabilizing role the farm program has played in American agriculture."
For example, he said U.S. agricultural exports have been higher than imports since 1960. Few U.S. industry's can claim a trade surplus. For 2010, Stallman said, that surplus will be about $40 billion.
"And this year we are expecting a record $126 billion in U.S. agricultural exports," Stallman said.
Agricultural pundits have suggested the industry might be better served if the current farm bill is extended – moved away from a Presidential election year. Stallman suggests nobody should get their hopes up about that happening.
"I am skeptical there will be any opportunity for a straight extension," Stallman said.