Agricultural producers should expect to see cuts to many federal farm programs as the next farm bill is debated in Washington, according to Joe Outlaw, AgriLife Extension economist and co-director of the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University. Outlaw was quick to the point when addressing attendees at the 2010 Texas Plant Protection Conference in Bryan.
"There’s going to be a whole lot of looking to cut money out of what can be cut and agriculture is going to be cut," Outlaw told attendees.
About 1/4 of 1% of the federal budget goes to funding agriculture, Outlaw says.
What won’t be cut in a "year like this one" are nutrition programs, which account for about 75% of agriculture’s federal budget. Bulls-eye programs likely to be targeted for cuts include crop insurance as well as conservation and commodity programs, he says.
"When you break it all down, the main bull's-eye is on the $5 billion in direct commodity payments. Nobody wants to cut conservation or crop insurance but they have in the past and will continue to be under budget-cutting pressure."
Outlaw says it's too soon to speculate on what will be the next "piece of ag-oriented legislation."
"You can't do much in terms of a farm bill next year until they tell us how much they are going to cut out of agriculture," he says. "No question, we’re going to have less money. The question is with what you have left: Do you want to leave it as it is or do you want a different type of safety net?"
In addition to the threat of budget cuts, there are currently 37 farm bill programs equaling approximately $9.8 billion that do not have any funding after the 2008 farm bill expires.
"If we are going to have any of these programs, which include the disaster program in the next bill, there will have to be cuts to other programs to provide the funding," Outlaw says.
Overall, he says "all signs point to less of a safety net, regardless."
"There’s no way I can put a positive spin on what’s coming out of Washington," Outlaw says.
The cuts could also pressure lending.
"You don’t take less money and make everybody better off," he says. "This is real life – they are going to make cuts. No question about it."
Meanwhile, Jerry Hatfield, laboratory director and supervisory plant physiologist with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, discussed ongoing research efforts in studying current climate change patterns. He says farmers and ranchers should plan for more fluctuations of extreme dry to wet weather patterns in the future.
"We will see an increase variance in precipitation in which we’re going to be experiencing longer periods of dry weather interspersed by longer periods of wet (weather)," he says. "It’s going to be a real challenge for agriculture on how to cope with this as we put together this puzzle."
Aside from increases in the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere and temperature changes, there also has been an increase in water vapor.
"We’ve become much more humid and that's also affected temperatures," he says.
He says nighttime temperatures have been overlooked when studying the changes in the atmosphere. "These increases in mean temperatures are due mostly to nighttime temperatures than daytime temperatures. In the last 20 years, increased nighttime temperatures changed very dramatically."
Another area that hasn't been addressed in examining the effects of climate change has been plant physiology and nighttime temperatures, he said.
"It's one of the pieces of the puzzle that has been overlooked. We tend to look from a climatic view and not a plant physiological view."
Higher nighttime temperatures will affect reproductive development "because of the sensitivity of pollen survival to temperature."
"Increases in nighttime temperatures will have a large impact on both vegetative and reproductive growth," he says. "Yields will be impacted because of shortened reproductive periods. Occurrences of higher temperatures will cause faster phonological development."
Hatfield noted a few indirect impacts of climate change, which include more weed infestations. "Weeds love CO2 (carbon dioxide) even more and they are showing positive response to rising CO2 concentrations," he said.
Insects and diseases also increase with more favorable environments over the winter and more humid conditions during the growing season, Hatfield said.
"Climate change will affect agriculture," he says. "Agriculture has adapted to climate change in the past and will again in response to long-term trends. These are some major challenges. These aren’t meant to scare you, it's how we adapt to these scenarios. We need to figure out how to build some resilience in our cropping systems to handle that."