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Roger Johnson, Published December 12 2010

Schafer’s ‘sour grapes’ paint inaccurate picture of farm bill

In his Dec. 5 op-ed in The Forum, “I’ll take 2 percent as a start,” Ed Schafer stated that the 2008 farm bill was not paid for and will add billions to the deficit.

I’ve known and respected Schafer a long time, working with him when he was governor and I was North Dakota ag commissioner, then later when he was U.S. secretary of agriculture.

I suspect Schafer’s contention is sour grapes. It was in his capacity as agriculture secretary that he recommended President George Bush veto the farm bill, something that the former president did not once but twice. Both times, his veto was overridden by large bipartisan majorities. Even Schafer’s successor, former Gov. and

Sen.-elect John Hoeven, disagreed with him. In short, Schafer just doesn’t like the current farm bill.

In my travels across North Dakota and the nation, farmers have told me they think the farm bill and the safety net is working pretty well. They are grateful for things such as the federal crop insurance program and the permanent disaster assistance program.

The Congressional Budget Office stated when the current farm bill passed in May 2008 that it would reduce the deficit by

$110 million over the next 10 years. In commodity programs, we have seen that play out to an even larger degree.

Because of high prices, commodity programs are projected to cost $9 billion less than when Congress first passed the farm bill. And those existing parts of the current farm bill, including the permanent disaster program – which Schafer argues would cost $9 billion if extended in the next farm bill – will not increase the farm bill’s baseline.

Indeed, if they are to be continued, Congress will need to find the money by cutting somewhere else. Frankly, that’s how the budgeting process should work.

If you ask me, it seems like agriculture is doing its part to help reduce the deficit at a time when the public is calling for it.

Johnson is president of the National Farmers Union and a former North Dakota commissioner of agriculture.