With Congress on a debt-cutting mission, U.S. farm subsidies have become a major target. Legislators from both sides of the aisle are looking to harvest savings wherever possible and they are eying the fertile fields of U.S. farmers.

The nation’s farm subsidies, crop insurance, conservation programs and disaster relief are controversial even in good budget times, according to a Kansas City Star report.

“Agriculture is clearly in the crosshairs for significant reductions,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican and a longtime champion of farm interests in Washington.

With federal debt over $14 trillion, the $10 billion to $25 billion spent each year on farm supports is attracting new scrutiny from the right and the left. And their budget-cutting scythes are out.

“Most people who do not directly benefit from farm subsidies seem to recognize that these programs have been an absolute failure and make virtually no economic sense,” said Brian Riedl, an economist with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Liberal groups are also calling for cuts to the farm programs. Farm subsidies aren’t needed, they argue, because farm income is going up, while some food prices — driven in part by federal support for ethanol production — are also higher, hurting families at the grocery store.

The federal government sends roughly $5 billion annually in direct cash payments to farmers of 10 different crops such as wheat, corn and rice. The payments are made regardless of crop prices. Other farm spending, including loans, subsidized insurance and conservation incentives, can cost an additional $5 billion to $20 billion annually.

Farmers, and farm-state lawmakers, are nervously watching all the budget-cutting zeal. The farm bill, which establishes the broad outline for agriculture programs and spending, is up for renewal next year.

Farm advocates argue that while agriculture is ready to do its part to reduce the deficit, farm programs protect a system that delivers high-quality, safe food at a relatively low cost. “We’re taxpayers, too,” says Kansas farmer Tom Boehm. He notes that price supports provide a safety net when crops don’t come in.

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Source: Kansas City Star