Two Farm Bill Debates - The First is Increasing the Baseline

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The Congressional Budget Office baseline for agriculture will be 25% below 2002 because high commodity prices have resulted in lower expenditures for agriculture in recent years. Groups are doing everything they can to get more than that in this year's farm bill debate.

The 2002 Farm Bill was written following three years of federal budget surplus, but when Congress writes the 2007 Farm Bill, it's under very different circumstances.

American Farmland Trust President Ralph Grossi explains that current high grain prices, driven by surging interest in renewable fuels, means there may be as much as $7-8 billion a year less in the agriculture baseline when the federal budget figures are released this quarter. "It means we are obligated to ensure that we can justify and explain how increased funding will benefit the public," Grossi adds.

"So we have two farm bill debates this year: first in the Budget Committee to determine how much money we will have to spend, and then in the agriculture committees to decide how to allocate it. As the public, we have to decide how much money we want to allot to feeding the hungry, cleaning up the environment, on rural development and improving our diets, and much more."

Before the President released his budget, over 100 groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, America's Second Harvest and the National Association of Conservation Districts sent a letter to the House and Senate Budget committees asking for increased funding in this farm bill.

"Given the cuts agricultural programs have already sustained over the last several years, and the substantial savings as a result of farm bill programs, we ask that you adopt mandatory and discretionary spending levels that provide for additional funding and resist efforts to force further budget reductions on agricultural, food  assistance, conservation and other critical programs," states the letter.  

According to CongressDaily, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson asked House Budget Chairman John Spratt for "'quite a bit of money' above the baseline and that Spratt's 'eyes got big.'"

Peterson said he was "optimistic" that he will get the money, and CongressDaily also reported Peterson would favor an extension of the 2002 Farm Bill for a few years if he doesn't get it.

The budget committee will likely release their budget in March and Congress will begin crafting farm bill legislation after that point.

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