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Farm Bureau denouncing phase-out of direct farm payments

RICHMOND—Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the commonwealth’s largest farmers’ advocacy organization, is rallying its members in opposition to President Obama’s proposed phase-out of government payments to farmers.

The Obama administration is seeking to save $9.8 billion over 10 years by eliminating payments to farms with sales of more than $500,000, regardless of net income or the number of families an operation supports.

The VFBF called on its members Tuesday to share their concerns with Virginia’s Congressional delegation.

Farm Bureau opposes cutting direct payments because they are a critical part of the 2008 Farm Bill and a safety net for producers, said Wilmer Stoneman, VFBF associate director of governmental relations. “Direct payments are just about the only source of government support helping farmers cope with lower commodity prices and higher production costs.

“Agricultural input costs like fuel and fertilizer increased by 40 percent in the past five years, and the USDA expects net farm income to drop by 20 percent this year,” Stoneman continued. “If we want Americans to continue having access to safe, affordable food grown in America, this is not the time to start cutting farm programs.”

Congress spent 18 months negotiating the 2008 Farm Bill, which became law only eight months ago and has yet to be implemented, Stoneman noted, adding that the bill had the support of more than 500 nutrition, conservation and farm organizations.

“Farmers took $1.6 billion in cuts to farm programs during the negotiation process, and crop insurance took about $6 billion in cuts. And the 2008 Farm Bill already contained significant reforms to payment limits.”

Record-high farm incomes in 2008 are not likely to repeat in 2009, Stoneman said, and a farm with $500,000 in sales could be supporting multiple households and multiple generations of a farm family.

“While it is true that a relatively small percentage of farms receive a larger share of payments, that’s because those farms are responsible for a larger share of production and take on the commensurate risk,” he said. “About 115,000 farms report sales over $500,000, and they produce more than 70 percent of U.S. farm products. About two-thirds of those would be affected by a cut in direct payments, and they produce almost two-fifths of agriculture’s output.”

Operators of those larger farms also are among the least likely to have off-farm income, making them most susceptible to the variability of markets and weather, Stoneman added. “The safety net was created to deal with this variability.”

The Southwest Farm Press reported Tuesday that the Obama administration was showing signs of having second thoughts after intense criticism from farm organizations, academics and both sides of the aisle in Congress.

Contact Stoneman at 804-290-1024.


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