The key issue driving debate on the 2012 farm bill in Congress will be deficit reduction, according to Roger Bernard, news editor of Pro Farmer.

"Our policy makers in Washington will have some difficult choices to make," Bernard said at a seminar Sunday at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 92nd Annual Meeting. "The 2012 farm bill will be dictated by what kind of numbers the House Agriculture Committee is given by the Budget Committee. That really is going to drive what moves forward."

Bernard reminded Farm Bureau members that farm program spending is still a very small part of the federal government's budget. He said the Agriculture Department controls just 2.15 percent of the federal budget, with 75 percent of USDA's budget directed to nutrition programs.

Of the $924 billion 10-year funding projection for USDA, direct payments to farmers comprise just 5.3 percent of the total while commodity payments to farmers fall just short of 7 percent, according to Bernard.

"Eliminating those direct payments just doesn't get you very far when it comes to reducing the budget deficit," Bernard said, suggesting that Congress may tweak eligibility requirements for federal nutrition programs as a means to reduce the deficit.

"Congress can make sure that people who receive the benefits of these programs really need the benefits of the programs. Lawmakers can propose it in a way that makes it more palatable," Bernard said.

Source: American Farm Bureau Federation news release