A burning sugar cane field (Pic by skatoolaki, via Flickr)

The 2012 Farm Bill will be hotly debated in Congress in the coming months, as members look to cut spending from the federal budget. But recent reports detail a move to include major agricultural cuts in the deficit reduction plan to be developed by the so-called congressional “Super Committee,” as a way to ensure that legislators don’t make even more drastic cuts when they write the forthcoming farm legislation.

The current $284 billion Farm Bill, which was approved in 2008, expires on Sept. 30, 2012. Around $210 billion goes to programs like food stamps and school lunches, while slightly more than $70 billion subsidizes commodity crops and funds agricultural research, rural development, and energy.

The Farm Bill, which is rewritten every five years, is always a hot topic, but this year, it might be on a tighter schedule than normal. Fears that the congressional “Super Committee,” which is tasked with cutting more than $1 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years, might make drastic cuts to agriculture programs have spurred agricultural interests to take matters into their own hands.

As reported by our sister site, The Minnesota Independent, a letter signed by Agricultural Committee members Frank Lucas R-Okla., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., proposes making $23 billion in cuts to agriculture. The committee hopes to propose the cuts in detail by Nov. 1, to safeguard agriculture from further cuts brought on by the “Super Committee.”

One of the industries most affected by Farm Bill legislation is Big Sugar, which lines the campaign coffers of lawmakers across the country to shore up support for sugar subsidies.

According to Adweek, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., recently spoke to the American Sugar Alliance via video teleconference and offered an assurance that the debt ceiling-reduction bill wouldn’t cut farm subsidies in the short term. If the “Super Committee” doesn’t come up with a deficit-reduction proposal by December, however,  farm programs will be affected.

Via Adweek:

“Agriculture spending is not included in the first stage, but if there is a sequestration agriculture would be included because those cuts would be across the board,” Conrad said.

Conrad also told the cane and beet growers that the sequestration would not have a direct effect on the sugar program because the sugar program is operated on a no net cost basis to the government, but that if other farm programs have to take cuts there will be pressure to change the sugar program as a matter of fairness.

People “argue that sugar should take a hit even though it is a no cost program,” Conrad said.

In the past, during tough budget times Congress imposed a fee on sugar growers to run their program.

Conrad said he does not know whether the deficit reduction process under the joint committee will include writing the new farm bill this fall rather than waiting until 2012. Conrad said that it is more likely that the bill will be written in 2012, but added, “I personally do not believe we are advantaged by waiting.”

But while Big Sugar’s lobbying arm is extensive (continual campaign donations are made to both Republicans and Democrats) and powerful, not everyone is on their side. In fact, two House Republicans — Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., and Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. —are actively seeking to reform sugar policy with their bill, the Free Market Sugar Act (H.R. 1385), which would repeal the sugar price support program.

“The Super Committee should not perpetuate this egregious subsidy, which costs consumers billions of dollars each year,” wrote the two in a recent blog post published by The Hill. “Sugar policy should be thoroughly reformed in the next Farm Bill to protect consumers, small businesses, and workers in sugar-using industries nationwide, not by the Super Committee.”

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