As Congress and the Obama administration negotiate the best way to resolve the mandated, across-the-board reduction in federal spending known as sequestration—with cuts set to take effect March 1—agricultural groups including the Farm Bureau remain concerned about how the process will impact federal farm programs and other activities affecting agriculture.

The manager of the California Farm Bureau Federation Federal Policy Division, Rayne Pegg, said CFBF directors will be in Washington, D.C., next week, meeting with members of Congress on the effects of sequestration.

"We are concerned about the impact of the sequestration, not only on the farm bill but state programs. There are still a number of smaller programs that fund various state agency activities that will be impacted," Pegg said. "Some people may be feeling the pain as it plays out."

The White House, as part of a campaign to pressure congressional Republicans, released a report Sunday detailing how sequestration could affect programs in every state. For California, impacts presented by the administration included reduced staffing levels at the border that could lead to slow screening and entry for people traveling into the U.S.; delays in sea container examinations; fewer food safety inspections by the Food and Drug Administration; loss of funds for clean air and water programs; and loss of grants for fish and wildlife protection.

Mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, sequestration is estimated to lead to $85.3 billion in cuts for fiscal year 2013 to domestic and military programs, which would be the start of $1 trillion in cuts during the next decade.

To address the federal spending issue, President Obama has suggested that the 2013 sequestration be replaced with a package of tax increases and spending cuts. Plans by Senate and House Democrats include cuts to farm programs and the closure of tax loopholes for oil companies, and would allow sequestration to take effect at the beginning of 2014. A Republican plan would consist of considerable reductions to domestic spending, no reductions in defense spending and no tax increases.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman expressed concern with the Democratic plans, saying that "the lion's share of budget reductions will come from cuts to agricultural programs that will create much harm in farm country."

Stallman said AFBF was initially encouraged that a new, $110 billion fiscal policy proposal from Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "would help put our nation on the long road toward greater fiscal responsibility." But, Stallman said, "the details on how he proposes to do so raise strong concerns."

In the Reid proposal, more than $27.5 billion in net spending reductions are earmarked for farm programs, with the cuts coming from elimination of direct payments and no provision to allow use of some of the savings for reinvestment in new safety-net or risk-management concepts, Stallman said.

"The magnitude of these proposed cuts will hamstring the House and Senate agriculture committees from crafting a farm bill that includes the safety-net and risk-management provisions that our farmers need," he said. "We recognize there are many steps on the road toward restoring fiscal responsibility to our federal government and that some will be painful. That pain, however, should be a shared experience and not take such a heavy toll from any one sector."

AFBF Farm Policy Specialist Mary Kay Thatcher emphasized the importance of maintaining a strong safety net for farmers.

"Our fear is that if you take that much money out of the budget now, you cannot write a farm bill that has an adequate safety net," Thatcher said. "If you look at just last year and you think about the fact that we had the worst drought in this country since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, the fact is we had no call in this country for ad hoc disaster assistance from Congress, because we have a crop insurance program that works pretty darn well. If we don't maintain that crop insurance program and the safety net and improve it, we'll go right back to having to ask Congress for that assistance every year."

Source: Christine Souza