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AFT weighs in on federal budget, farm bill

American Farmland Trust president explains organization's views on recent federal budget deal, expected cuts to agriculture programs. Asks that next farm bill not be pushed through too quickly.

"The various budget deficit talks that have gripped the attention of Washington these past months have finally resulted in a plan to reduce our nation’s deficit,” says Jon Scholl, President of American Farmland Trust (AFT). “While we are thankful that this crisis has been dealt with, we also know that the plan will have serious implications for the future of U.S. agriculture and its ability to provide food, fiber, fuel and stewardship of our natural resources.”

The plan agreed upon will address the nation’s budget deficit by requiring $900 billion in immediate cuts and then over $1 trillion in cuts either via a “super committee” of 12 members of Congress, or through automatic cuts if the committee cannot come to agreement.

“We do not know what these cuts will mean for farms, farmland and food since the immediate and longer-term cuts have not been fully mapped out for each area in the federal budget,” adds Scholl. “However, it is clear that agriculture will need to do more with less.

“I believe the next farm bill can be transformational. Our country must now make big decisions about the nature of government and how it will spend our money, and agriculture and food policy will be no exception to that rule.”

Scholl notes that many of today’s farm programs and rural development efforts have been in place for decades, with the last major overhaul of Title I occurring in 1996, and conservation programs evolving since 1985.

“Congress is now asking very different questions. Rather than asking how a program works, or how it can be improved, they are asking what is the appropriate societal benefit for the program, what is the role of government, and how can we ensure programs best serve producers and society?”

These different questions could lead to a transformation of farm policy next year. “I am excited about the prospects for change because at American Farmland Trust we know that protecting farm and ranch land, and keeping farmers on their land, providing healthy and safe food and addressing environmental concerns are the top priorities of the majority of Americans—priorities that we believe will be better reflected in future policy choices,” Scholl said.

AFT is already at work on the next farm bill. “Farmers and ranchers acting through their policymakers have an opportunity to set a long-term vision for agricultural policy in the next farm bill. It’s always exciting to go through a process and know that you can end up with better policies and programs.”

Although excited by the prospects of new policy, Scholl is concerned that the farm bill might be pushed through Congress on a very tight timeline -- as little as 10 weeks.

“A farm bill that is not deliberate and well-thought out could be a long-term disaster for agricultural policy. In the spring, (Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee), indicated that he needed time to get his committee up to speed and ready to write a bill. While the House has had many hearings to review how programs work, neither they nor the Senate have spent equal time examining what the future holds for programs. I agree with Chairman Lucas, weneed the time and some semblance of normal order to work through what could be a transformational farm bill,” Scholl concludes.

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