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Lucas: 'Safety net' needed to maintain food production

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said today that the basic farm programs known as the farm safety net should probably be called the food production safety net, and that eliminating them would not save much money in budgetary terms.

"The costs of losing food production surely outweigh the costs of a safety net,” Lucas said. “Especially when you consider that many Title I programs don¬ít kick in until prices fall below a set trigger.”

Lucas made an opening statement for a House Agriculture General Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee hearing on the Title I farm programs and the disaster program known as SURE.

“There aren’t enormous savings to be found from cutting farm programs,” Lucas said. “They comprise less than one-half of 1 percent of the federal budget. That’s only 50 cents out of every 100 dollars.”

Lucas said the Agriculture committee is still willing to accept a budget cut, but not a disproportionate one. He said the committee would look at whether the programs are helping one group of producers over another, are more effective in certain regions, or are duplicative. He also said he would look for ways to improve the average crop revenue program known as ACRE.

“I don’t believe the SURE program has worked the way most of us hoped it would. And it does not have a budgetary baseline once the 2008 Farm Bill expires. So we need to consider how that fits in to both our budget and our safety net,” he said.

“Should the three-legged stool of direct payments, the counter-cyclical program, and marketing loan assistance be updated to reflect the new trends in prices?," Lucas asked.

In a veiled reference to the direct payments that crop farmers get whether prices are high or low, he said the committee needs to take a look “at the repercussions of eliminating programs” and asked, “Do we eliminate all incentives for producers to participate and in turn when they do opt out, do we lose the conservation compliance that comes with program participation?”