Georgia Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, told area farmers to brace for cuts to the Department of Agriculture budget as Washington seeks to close a trillion-dollar deficit.
TIFTON, Ga. — Speaking to a room full of farmers and agribusiness leaders, Georgia’s senior U.S. senator, Saxby Chambliss, R- Moultrie, said that agriculture wouldn’t be and shouldn’t be exempt from attempts by the federal government to shrink the national deficit.
“From the Agriculture perspective ... when the super committee met back in the fall, the number $23 billion was asked of agriculture and we responded, because I think that’s a fair figure, provided that folks in other aspects of the federal government do the same thing. And we’re going to demand that.”
That $23 billion over the next 10 years will be stripped from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and specifically put toward reducing the U.S. deficit, Chambliss said.
“It’s important that we make sure that the money that is being cut go directly to addressing this deficit,” Chambliss said. “It doesn’t need to go back to Congress for us to spend on something else.”
While farmers will deal with perennial challenges associated with actually growing their crops and the associated market challenges, many experts believe times are pretty good for many farmers across the nation.
The United States continues to be the world’s No. 1 exporter of agricultural products and commodities, which is helping to keep the prices higher for American farmers.
“Agriculture remains the one bright light when it comes to the trade policy in the country,” Chambliss said. “We continue to have a surplus in agriculture which means we’re exporting more agriculture than we’re importing...that’s a really good sign.
“Eighty percent of the cotton grown in Georgia today goes to China. A significant number of our pecans are going to China and that’s keeping prices at a pretty good level.”
Still, changes to the federal farm programs are coming, Chambliss says, most notably in a few key ways.
Firstly, the direct payment system that has aided farmers for decades according to their base acreage is going away, he says.
Also, because of international lawsuits brought by Brazil and others, the STEP-2 program is going away, and much of the country’s traditional cotton program is being remolded into something different.
“We’re going for something more revenue based...more of an insurance-like program for cotton,” Chambliss said. “That’s going to be a change for farmers.”
Chambliss wasn’t the only person in Tifton Friday talking about changes to the farm bill.
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told those in attendance that agriculture faces big challenges as the federal and state governments cope with the lingering effects of the recession and financial crisis.
“We have serious financial issues in our country right now and agriculture is going to have to be part of the effort to get things right and moving forward,” Black said. “But what we have to constantly remind people, however, is that we don’t want America to balance its financial situation on the backs of the farmers who are already pulling the load.”
Black also reminded those in attendance that 80 percent of the farm bill goes to social programs that he said are not directly related to farm programs.