JONESBORO, Ark. — Farmers from six states urged a congressional panel on Friday to pass this year's farm bill before the current legislation expires, and said they're worried about the impact subsidy cuts will have on their livelihood.
Testifying before a field hearing of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, the farmers said passing the bill before the current legislation expires in September would make it easier for them to plan and invest in their operations. Friday's meeting at Arkansas State University was the third of four nationwide field hearings the panel is holding as it begins work on the legislation.
"It is critically important to provide certainty to those of us involved in production agriculture since we make long-term investment decisions based on federal farm policy," said Walter Corcoran, a Eufala, Ala., farmer who plants several crops, including cotton and corn.
Most of the farmers who testified told lawmakers they're worried about the effect that cutting or eliminating subsidies, especially direct payments to farmers, would have on agriculture.
"We're entering the farm bill debate at a disadvantage if one of the main things that works for us is the direct payment and that is the one thing that's going to be eliminated under this bill," said Paul Combs, who farms rice, soybeans, cotton, corn and wheat in Missouri.
Randy Veach, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said that eliminating direct payments to farmers would have a $243 million impact on Arkansas' economy. He said federal crop insurance would not be enough to replace those payments.
"We must as a country get our house back in order, and agriculture is ready to do our part," said Veach, who farms cotton, rice, corn, wheat and soybeans in east Arkansas. "But we cannot balance our federal budget on the backs of agriculture."
The heads of the House and Senate agriculture committees have said they will shave $23 billion from farm and food aid programs over the next decade. Arkansas congressman Rick Crawford, who hosted Friday's hearing, said he thinks some direct payments can be kept while making those cuts.
"I would not say the direct payment is dead, per se, but it's certainly going to be challenging to keep it in place," Crawford said after the hearing.
The meeting included Agriculture Committee chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.
The hearing was held in Crawford's farm-heavy district as the freshman Republican faces a difficult re-election bid. Last year, the state Legislature added more traditionally Democratic counties to the east Arkansas district. The audience for Friday's hearing included prosecutor Scott Ellington and economist Gary Latanich, who are seeking the Democratic nomination along with state Rep. Clark Hall for Crawford's seat.
State Democrats blasted Crawford for voting for a Republican budget proposal a day earlier that included $30 billion in cuts to agriculture programs.
"While Congressman Rick Crawford may claim that he is working for Arkansas farmers, he has a disastrous record on agriculture issues," the state party said in a statement issued during the hearing.
Crawford dismissed the criticism and said he wants to tackle the nation's deficit without disproportionately hurting farmers.
"The fact is we have a serious budget situation, and you heard the testimony from witnesses here today and without exception they understand that we do have to take some drastic measures," Crawford said. "The common theme being that they don't want it to be inordinate or disproportionate to agriculture, and I share that sentiment."
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo