The House Appropriations Committee's Ag Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012 is only one step in a long budget process but it provides a preview of the battle ahead. Agriculture groups continue to emphasize they understand the need for cuts but ask that those cuts be fair compared to others. Fair of course is in the eye of the beholder and we are already hearing cries of foul. Budget cutting of course is never easy and the real challenge is to make needed cuts without stopping economic growth. Rural America is especially vulnerable. Despite being an engine of recovery for our country's economic woes, it is also an easy target for cuts. Agriculture has a long list of critics that neither understand nor care about the negative impact of major cuts on key programs. Having fewer voters than urban areas also makes rural America vulnerable. Budget battles aren't new but this one may be much more difficult than those in the past.

The budget fight serves as the backdrop for the writing of the next farm bill. Last week on AgriTalk, House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas said he still believes waiting until next year to write the farm bill is the right thing to do unless something dramatic and unexpected happens in the budget process. He also disagrees with USDA's decision not to file a formal proposal for the farm bill and made it clear he doesn't have much respect for the Administration's knowledge or understanding of agricultural issues. He also noted that while the recent WTO ruling on COOL is preliminary it is a reminder that as a member of the trade group we must play by their rules. That will be something to keep in mind as direct payments are debated as Chairman Lucas has often pointed out that they are WTO compliant.

The pending Free Trade Agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia continue to be caught in a political game of tug of war. First the Administration insists on renewal of Trade Adjustment Assistance before sending them to Congress, then the Republicans counter with refusal of the President's Commerce Secretary nominee if he doesn't send them. Meanwhile we lose important market share in all three countries while our leaders yell at each other and threaten to take their ball and go home. Hopefully both sides will come to their senses soon and let these agreements be voted up or down based on the merits of each and not how they serve a political agenda.

We'll be discussing those trade agreements this week at World Pork Expo in Des Moines. We'll also get reaction to USDA's new dietary icon, MyPlate, which replaces the old My Pyramid. As various segments of the food industry scramble to put the best face on the new chart, we'll find out who's happy and who's not with what is on this new plate. Remember, fair is in the eye of the beholder!