Earlier this week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to crowds in Iowa about the future of the Farm Bill. Renewed every five years, the Farm Bill has been an important part of the American agricultural industry, offering much needed aid to farmers and laying out a broad vision for the future of the industry.
In the past, Vilsack told the Iowa State Fair, policy needs dictated financial investments. However, given the state of the U.S. economy, Vilsack warned crowds that financial pressures might dictate the end result of the upcoming Farm Bill, meaning a smaller and less generous end result.
These financial pressures will almost certainly result in deep cuts to farm spending. Already, Vilsack has warned farmers that direct payment programs are threatened and will almost certainly be reduced, if not dropped altogether, in the Farm Bill. Due to high commodity prices and rising farm incomes (although many farmers say that these increased incomes do little to offset increasing fuel and feed costs), direct payments are first on a long list of Congressional budget targets.
Also endangered in the upcoming Farm Bill are conservation programs. A vital part of federal farm legislation since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, many budget hawks in Congress have been chipping away at conservation programs. The reduction of conservation funding plus the end of direct payment programs (which frequently required farmers to abide by environmental and conservation standards) has worried both farmers and environmental groups who fear for the long-term damage done to the American landscape.
Vilsack has been candid that he has few options in the face of Congressional budget knives. He has already pledged not to submit his own Farm Bill, trusting the current members of the House and Senate agriculture committees, stating that “we’ll work together through the process.”
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer