Nebraska Farm Bureau board members who lobbied in Washington, D.C. March 7-9 said the federal government shouldn’t try to balance the federal budget on the backs of farmers and ranchers.
“We’re willing to work with Congress to try to get our financial house in order–including cuts to programs farmers and ranchers rely on–but agriculture shouldn’t be targeted disproportionately,” Nebraska Farm Bureau President Keith Olsen said.
H.R. 1, the Republican-passed budget plan, would cut 22.4 percent ($5.21 billion) from agriculture-related programs, which is more than double the 10.3 percent cut proposed for overall non-defense discretionary spending.
That includes cuts to cooperative extension and Perkins program funding, which helps to support vocational agriculture training and FFA–programs agriculture consider vital, Olsen said.
“Agriculture is being viewed as the low-hanging fruit–an easy cut because many fewer Americans are directly affected by farm-related programs compared to other programs,” Olsen said.
The government can save money, the farm leaders said, by not funding projects in which the Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to overreach its legal authority.
EPA wants to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and require farmers to obtain federal permits to apply pesticides the government has already approved for use, Olsen said as examples.
In visits with the state’s Congressional delegation, the farm leaders emphasized principles Farm Bureau members want included in the 2012 Farm Bill: “Congress needs to look at all possible cuts and agriculture shouldn’t be immune, but it shouldn’t unduly burden farmers and ranchers in writing the Farm Bill,” Olsen said. “Farm programs have already seen big cuts compared with the nutrition programs that are also part of the Farm Bill.”
While in D.C., the Farm Bureau board members met with the Embassy of Panama to discuss the pending U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement.
During the past two years, Nebraska Farm Bureau delegations also have met with the embassies of South Korea and Columbia– two other countries with which the U.S. has pending Free Trade Agreements.
“Every single one of these embassies begged us to talk to our U.S. representatives and the administration to bring their FTAs to a vote,” Olsen said. “We have three customers who want to give us more than $3 billion in business for agriculture alone and we’ve done nothing. They very much want to trade with our country and politics is getting in the way.”
The three countries have good relationships with the U.S. and “this is not a good way to treat our friends. The world is paying attention to these pending agreements more than people in this country, who don’t seem to understand how important they are,” he said.
Farm Bureau delegations visiting Washington always make it a point to meet with an organization with which Farm Bureau might not always see eye to eye, Olsen said.
During the visit, the farm leaders met with the Environmental Working Group which has a long history of opposition to farm program payments. The two groups discussed modern agriculture, livestock systems and waste management.
“It’s good to see their perspective, even if we disagree with many of their positions,” Olsen said.
The Farm Bureau group also met with representatives of the National Restaurant Association and found the two groups have a lot in common.
“They (restaurant association) are dealing with the same issues as agriculture, including pressures from animal rights and environmental groups that are concerned with modern food production,” said Olsen. “Like farmers, restaurateurs want to continue in business and make a profit.”