How Should Federal Budget Cuts Impact Farms, Food and Farmland?

As legislators and the president face our fiscal realities, federal budget decisions are being made right now that will affect agriculture programs this year and through 2012.

United States CapitalThe required cut to 2011 appropriations—$32 billion in total—sets the boundaries on government spending for the remainder of the fiscal year. It will be up to the House Appropriations Committees, including the Agriculture, Rural Development and Food & Drug Administration Subcommittee, to decide how and where to cut spending. These committees can take an across the board percentage cut to the agencies, or, they can recommend cuts to individual programs.

The overall challenge issued to the Agriculture Appropriations Committee is to cut $3.2 billion of discretionary spending from their budget of $23.3 billion. Finding where to make the cuts is complicated because many programs are interconnected. For instance if the discretionary program for conservation guidance to farmers loses funding, the support needed for everything from farmland preservation and conservation to food and nutrition programs (food assistance), food safety, and renewable energy is threatened—putting programs at risk of being unable to provide the solutions they are intended to provide.

As the fate of the 2011 budget is ironed out, a look to 2012 is even more daunting. Cuts projected to surface in the 2012 budget proposal are estimated at $75 billion in discretionary funds alone. Further cuts to meet deficit reduction goals could possibly dip into programs like the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program or the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, threatening initiatives that provide the very basis for conservation and land protection, help advance rural prosperity, and create greater access to local and healthy food for consumers.

The federal farm bill programs are a key source of support for farmers’ and ranchers’ environmental stewardship, but conservation program funding has already been targeted for budget cuts. Farmers and ranchers are under increasing pressure from both consumers and regulators to address environmental concerns while at the same time, facing record demand from world food markets. In order to grow and prosper, agriculture must meet this demand while also protecting the environment—a tall order. The 2012 Farm Bill must reaffirm the importance of environmental stewardship, while also doing more with fewer dollars—improving the cost-effectiveness of the conservation programs, promoting new income streams like ecosystem service markets, and making it easier for farmers to adopt environmentally sound practices.

Balancing the value of federal programs while also balancing the budget is a difficult proposition and begs the question: What is the best thing we can do with the money available? It requires a look at what goals we have for our nation’s farm and foods, and it’s a challenge we’d like you to consider!

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5 thoughts on “How Should Federal Budget Cuts Impact Farms, Food and Farmland?

  1. AE Houston

    It seems to me that one of the most benefit-producing efforts would be to strongly encourage & incentivize! putting locally grown food into supermarkets & schools. Many, many people can’t/don’t get to farmers’ markets, but if locally grown food was available in the grocery store they would be thrilled. If schools primarily bought locally grown food – that’s another big profit source for farmers. I realize that it will take years for the status quo (mega-industry farm suppliers) to be overcome, but with incentivizing funds, that process could be hastened.

  2. Jimmy Osbourne

    I’m going to do my best to make an economic argument. Different parts of the worlds are taking great measures to place price cielings on food prices to fight rapid inflation. This is only going to lead to greater food shortages. What difference does it make if you can afford food, if it isn’t available?

    The United States has the ability to feed the world. New legislation needs to be aimed at removing price controls, trade barriers (including Cuba and international seed monopolies), and allowing food prices and production to adjust to meet global demand. This is trully an area where American farmers have a competitive advantage, America needs to increase its exports, and higher priced food means will keep more farmland in production without conservation measures.

  3. K.Rowlett

    We need to protect our SE TN farmland and rural areas. Farmers,ranchers have many detailed intricate activities that they must do to properly care for their animals and livestock correctly. This is best done, most often, in a quiet rural area. We need Federally enforceable , publicly understood, laws,etc., to protect our rural,historic,forested,areas in (SE) TN.,to prevent big business, real estate,metro annexation,etc.,from oppressing our right to live in quiet rural,farming and historic areas.
    Also,the farmers that would want to participate, need medical marijiuana to be passed into a law, that would allow those interested to grow it for legally acceptable medical uses. It could be a Number one cash crop all over again, let the farmers participate freely, for their own needed increased incomes.

  4. Jim Vance

    Protection of farmland, especially “prime” farmland as designated by NRCS, will require honest treatment of induced land development effects in Federally-mandated metropolitan and statewide transportation planning procedures, and in the environmental assessment processes for highway projects in metropolitan fringe areas. Except for Oregon and Ohio, few states or metropolitan areas employ valid integrated land use-transportation models to forecast future conditions on a truly interactive and nonbiased econometric basis that accurately depicts land development inducements from proposed transport system development actions or the subsequent additional impact on transport demands from induced development. This is a basic reason why most proposed new transportation improvements never actually produce the benefits of congestion mitigation over time as were promised at the decision stage.

    Although the FPPA (Farmland Protection Policy Act) theoretically mandates the identification of induced land conversion for “prime” and “important” farmlands in project-level EIS documents with the required NRCS form, it is routine for state highway agencies to identify only the direct conversion acreage and deliberately ignore or understate the acreage likely subject to induced conversion, which NRCS generally does not challenge. The statutory restrictions imposed on legal standing preclude litigation to challenge such deliberate oversights except by a State Governor, and persons in those positions are among the greatest beneficiaries of the status quo.

    Both aspects are deeply-embedded institutional practices that provide substantial economic and political benefits for those individuals and firms in both the real estate and construction industries which have strong political association with elected officeholders at all levels of government from local to National. In turn, those who reap significant profits over time then utilize those gains to fund electoral campaigns of favored candidates or bond issues and promote favorable political agendas in order to sustain the corrupted system which provides such largesse to a select group in American society.

    Not all of the urban sprawl that has occurred throughout the US can be attributed to these flaws, but much of it can simply because the promised outcomes of proposed actions are deliberately biased and not independently verified as result of repeated technical mis-assessment when infrastructure- or development-planning decisions are made. So long as metropolitan areas and state infrastructure agencies are not required by the Federal government to use such cutting-edge tools in their decision-making, sprawling patterns of metropolitan development will continue to gobble up farmland in almost every region of the country.

  5. Cedar

    This survey does not offer the most important choice – federal budget cuts should be structured so as to FAVOR SMALL and SUSTAINABLE farmers and to disadvantage large scale agribusiness. Two ways: (1) anti-trust legislation to dismantle agribusiness and its control of our food system; (2) stop direct payments to commodity producers and instead go back to buying up surplus and keeping a price floor in place.

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