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Ag, renewable fuels groups protest GOP budget cuts

By JERRY HAGSTROM

Thirty-two agriculture groups representing the breadth of food production and ideology have asked each member to reconsider the Republican continuing resolution now moving through the House of Representatives, saying agriculture is being asked to bear too much of the budget cuts.

The groups range from the American Farm Bureau Federation to the National Farmers Union, and include commodity, credit and crop insurance groups.

“While we applaud the bill’s efforts to decrease discretionary spending, we are concerned that agriculture is being required to absorb a disproportionate amount of the discretionary cuts,” the groups wrote in a letter.

H.R. 1 would cut $5.21 billion, or 22.4 percent, from agriculture-related programs and operating budgets during the remaining seven months of FY-201, the groups wrote.

“This is more than double the 10.3 percent cut proposed in overall non-defense discretionary spending. Given the importance that agriculture plays in America’s food security and economic recovery, it is unclear how such disproportionate cuts are warranted or wise. We strongly encourage Congress to reconsider the balance of funding cuts for the remainder of FY-2011.”

The Feb. 15 letter was addressed to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., and ranking member Norm Dicks, D-Wash., and was sent to each House member, the groups stated.

In a separate letter, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson wrote, “These cuts to agriculture total $5.21 billion and would result in drastic funding shortages at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), not just for the next seven months but for years to come. The reductions for agriculture-related programs would stunt the progress of agricultural research efforts, inhibit the delivery of farm programs and cause immediate layoffs at USDA."

“Of all the categories in the House Continuing Resolution, only Housing and Urban Development was faced with a higher percentage cut (23 percent) than agriculture," Johnson wrote. "Congress can — and must — identify a means of reducing the deficit in a way that spreads the burden more evenly among government programs and agencies.”

Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and a deputy and acting Agriculture secretary in the second Bush administration, said in a news release that the 22.4 percent cut in agriculture is more than double the overall 10.3 percent cut in overall nonmilitary discretionary spending.

“Those of us in agriculture recognize the pressing importance of addressing the deficit by bringing spending more in line with revenue; you couldn’t run a farm, a ranch or a co-op if you were in the red year after year,” Conner said.

“We in agriculture are willing to do our part, but cuts to agriculture should be in proportion to those in other areas. In addition, every program and area of spending should be on the table to help close budget gap.”

The American Soybean Association also weighed in on the issue.

“Given the importance that agriculture plays in America’s food security and economic recovery, it is unclear how such disproportionate cuts are warranted or wise,” said President Alan Kemper, a soybean farmer from Lafayette, Ind. “ASA is strongly encouraging Congress to reconsider the balance of funding cuts for the remainder of FY-2011.”

The Renewable Fuels Association said in an email today that the continuing resolution “includes a provision that appears to eliminate funding for [Environmental Protection Agency] staff to implement and enforce the Renewable Fuels Standard.”

The RFA has also stated its opposition to a number of amendments to the continuing resolution. One by Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla., would bar funds in the CR from being used to implement EPA's E15 partial waiver ruling. Another by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., would prevent CR funds from directly or indirectly supporting the installation of ethanol infrastructure such as blender pumps. A third by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., would block Energy Department funds for biomass and biorefinery systems.

RFA noted that Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, has filed an amendment that would prevent language in the CR from blocking EPA’s renewable fuels program.

“Thinking that the government can balance its budget by nickel-and-diming America’s energy future may seem pennywise but is extraordinarily pound-foolish,” RFA said.

“Seeking to re-legislate ethanol policy through the appropriations process would cost American jobs and hamstring the ethanol industry's ability to innovate and evolve. These half-baked ideas only serve to strengthen America’s addiction to oil — even as we learn the nation’s largest oil producer, ExxonMobil, is struggling to find new sources. To borrow a White House buzz phrase, we cannot win our energy future by relying on the technologies of the past.”

The Advanced Ethanol Council, a new coalition formed by RMA and companies that use feedstocks, municipal solid waste and algae to produce ethanol, today also called on members of Congress to vote against the amendments that would curb government assistance to ethanol.

The industry leaders founding the AEC include Abengoa Bioenergy , BlueFire Renewables, Coskata, Enerkem , Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inbicon, Iogen, Mascoma, Osage Bio Energy and Qteros, RFA said in a news release.

“We urge lawmakers to make clear that America’s energy strategy is focused on the future and not the technologies of the past,” said AEC Chair and Mascoma Chief Executive Officer Bill Brady. “Advanced ethanol companies strongly oppose efforts to further constrict the market for ethanol and deny much-needed government partnerships to bring our technologies to commercialization.”

The AEC also urged Congress to remove language that would eliminate funding for implementation of the Renewable Fuels Standard.

“The RFS is as important, if not more important, to advanced ethanol companies as it is to current ethanol producers,” said Brady. “Ethanol is one part of our nation’s solution to the energy challenges we face. Now is not the time to turn back the clock on the energy, environmental and economic progress this industry has made.”

32 agricultural groups sign letter in protest of H.R. 1

These groups signed the letter sent today to every member of the House of Representatives, protesting the proposed continuing resolution which they said would mean a disproportionate budget cut for agriculture:
American Association of Crop Insurers
American Beekeeping Federation
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Feed Industry Association
American Sheep Industry Association
American Soybean Association
American Sugar Alliance
Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau
Farm Credit Council
Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers
National Association of Wheat Growers
National Barley Growers Association
National Corn Growers Association
National Cotton Council
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
National Farmers Union
National Milk Producers Federation
National Renderers Association
National Sorghum Producers
National Sunflower Association
Northeast States Association for Agricultural Stewardship
South East Dairy Farmers Association
Southern Peanut Farmers Federation
United Dairymen of Arizona
United Egg Producers
US Canola Association
US Dry Bean Council
US Rice Producers Association
USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council
USA Rice Federation
Western Peanut Growers Association
Western United Dairymen