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.
The 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!