Supporting research and ensuring a farm safety net that addresses disasters were key themes of the first Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee hearing of the 2012 Farm Bill process.
The session was held Thursday, with two panels and many Member questions about a wide range of specific programs and priorities. There was widespread recognition that less money will be available for the 2012 Farm Bill, and that agriculture policy in an age of high prices and growing populations will be different than in past decades when overflowing stocks were the pressing problem.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was the sole witness on the first panel, focusing his testimony on the challenge of feeding a growing global population and the importance of research investments, trade, conservation and technology.
In questioning, Vilsack highlighted his understanding of the budget realities, saying he had already directed USDA under secretaries to begin looking at creative ways to cut spending and that there are no “easy cuts”.
He emphasized the need for Senators to make choices that will provide a good return on the limited dollars USDA has to spend.
Even as the House Appropriations Committee’s agriculture subcommittee voted to cut research programs by 20 percent since the 2010 fiscal year, Vilsack reminded Senators that research returns $10 for every $1 invested, saying it is “really something we ought not to shortchange.”
Vilsack also noted that trade promotion programs, such as the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, return $35 for every $1 invested.
In the area of farm safety net programs, which will probably be the most challenging section of the 2012 bill, Vilsack expressed support for a disaster program to supplement the crop insurance coverage producers can buy. Permanent disaster assistance also got a nod this week from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a longtime agriculture supporter.
A second panel at the Senate hearing this week included former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, a Michigan farmer and representatives from Conservation International, Deere and Company and Cornell University.
Written testimony from all witnesses and a rebroadcast of the hearing are available online at http://ag.senate.gov/site/calendar.html under May 26, 2011.
Senate Ag’s second 2012 Farm Bill hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, May 31, at 9 a.m. local time in East Lansing, Mich. The Committee will offer a live audio feed at its website, http://ag.senate.gov.