Chandler Goule speaks to National Farmer’s Union Conference about the 2012 Farm Bill |

Chandler Goule speaks to National Farmer’s Union Conference about the 2012 Farm Bill

Courtesy photoIn Washington, the Senate Agriculture Committee is in the midst of hearings for the next farm bill. Changes to the reauthorization process, spurred by efforts of the joint select committee on deficit reduction last year, have slowed the typical gait of public hearings. At this point, the process appears to still be on track for a 2012 Farm Bill. Courtesy photo

All eyes are on Washington, D.C., waiting for updates on the 2012 Farm Bill. Chandler Goule, National Farmer’s Union (NFU) vice president of government relations, offered an update from Capitol Hill. Goule is NFU’s chief lobbyist and manages the NFU government relations department, working on top-priority issues including livestock, commodities, dairy, check-off programs, competitive practices, biotechnology, aquaculture, trade and tax issues.

“The Farm Bill is one of the biggest investments in agriculture, yet the government is spending less than 2 percent of its total annual budget on it,” said Goule. “When we look at Farm Bill funding, we have a funding hole of $72 billion. Thirty-seven programs have an expiring baseline, and to extend them another five years would take another $9-10 billion.”

Agriculture is pushing back, telling elected officials that food producers shouldn’t have to take unfair cuts.

“If we take the 20 percent cut that the appropriations committee wants us to take, it will make writing the next Farm Bill even more difficult,” he said. “We are going to have to make difficult decisions on where to spend our money. We need to come in with a unified voice to help distribute the money, instead of bickering about certain areas of importance.”

When does the next Farm Bill need to be completed? Goule explained.

“Technically, the Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30, 2012; this legislation must pass in 2012,” he stressed. The 37 current Farm Bill programs that will expire including SURE, renewable energy and many conservation programs. If we are fortunate enough for the Senate to put together a bill by early summer, I don’t see anyway for us to get through the conference process before election season. Having gone through this before, I can tell you this is an 18-month process.”

This doesn’t bode well for the completion of the Farm Bill anytime soon, making people wonder how the gridlock in Congress will impact farm and food policy.

“We have set ourselves up for a troublesome situation,” Goule added. “We are in an extreme budget shortage. We have elected officials who believe in cutting the budget, regardless of what the consequences. The Farm Bill must provide a strong safety net, functional conservation and energy components, protection of the current livestock title, a continuation of dairy programs, support of specialty niche markets for organic crops and value-added research, and a strong focus on nutrition components.”

It’s a surprise to many that two-thirds of the Farm Bill dollars are ear-marked for food and nutrition programs, not farmers and ranchers.

“We must remember that this is a food bill, not just a farm bill,” said Goule.

For folks counting on food stamps, healthy meals at school and support for nutrition and wellness, the Farm Bill plays a serious role, adding to the importance that Congress doesn’t cool its jets on the issue. Feeding the world is a top priority for NFU. The organization has partnered up with Feeding America (FA), the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity. The FA food bank network members supply food to more than 37 million Americans each year, including 14 million children and 3 million seniors.

“One in six Americans struggles with hunger, including one in four children,” explained Goule. “We must do our part to alleviate hunger in the U.S. and around the world.”

All member-driven donations go to food banks that serve hungry people in their community. Feeding America’s more than 200 member food banks serve 61,000 agencies that reach every community in the country. With the efficiency of their network, every dollar donated helps provide $17 worth of food and groceries to Americans in need. With the Buffett Foundation’s matching grant, NFU members will see that number double to $34.

Farmers and ranchers must continue to push for priorities within the Farm Bill, and Goule said NFU is committed to making sure agriculture doesn’t have to make more sacrifices than other government-supported programs.

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