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Farmers’ Subsidy Views on Collision Course with Budget Squeeze

December 5, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Most Midwestern and Southern farmers believe economic times on the farm have grown worse in recent years and don’t want the government to cut spending for farm programs - a view that seems certain to run head-on into harsh budget realities.

A survey released last week by Rural Voice, a non-profit policy group created by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., found that three out of four farmers believe the government is spending the right amount or too little on farm subsidies.

At the same time, outgoing Agriculture Secretary Richard Lyng predicted that as much as $3 billion of the current $13 billion farm program cost will have to be cut next year as part of the $30 billion or so in cuts needed to help the government reach its deficit-reduction target.

Farm programs and defense spending are the most frequently cited targets for cuts when Congress returns next month.

The survey of 270 farmers, conducted in August and released at a Capitol Hill news conference last week, found that while they believe government spending on farm programs should not be cut, nearly three out of five believe the government makes poor use of the money it does spend on farmers.

About one in three said the current farm law, passed in 1985, is effective. Thirty-nine percent said the law either has been not very effective or has made matters worse, and 25 percent said they did not know what its effect has been.

Leahy said the survey results indicate ″we have a clear challenge before us. Farmers are telling us they are not interested in bigger programs. They want more effective programs, which help them compete in the world market.″

Added Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., a member of the organization’s board of directors: ″These farmers are saying, ’Give us the incentive to do better, to continue to be the most productive and efficient farmers in the world, but help us get through these tough times.‴

Agriculture Department economists speaking at the department’s annual outlook conference last week projected better times ahead for farmers. Commodity prices will continue to be strong, they said, with record-tying sales of $148 billion to $152 billion forecast.

Farmers will be less dependent on direct government subsidies, the economists said. Direct federal payments are forecast at $9 billion to $11 billion, reflecting in part the tightening of some commodity supplies by this year’s drought.

The Rural Voice survey found farmers themselves divided over specific policy alternatives as Congress begins to consider directions for new farm legislation.

Half of those surveyed said the government should put more effort into non- agricultural industries and jobs in rural areas. Strong majorities favored targeting farm program benefits to small and medium-sized family farms (72 percent), strengthening regulations on pesticide use (74 percent) and expanding the Conservation Reserve to reduce use of pesticides (68 percent).

Fifty-six percent favored higher price-support levels for crops and 59 percent said they approve of the use of export subsidies to protect U.S. world market share.

A majority, 62 percent, said they support the gradual elimination of all farm subsidies worldwide over a 10-year period if all countries participate, but they narrowly opposed - 50 to 42 percent - unilateral action to end subsidies.

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