HONOLULU Farmers think Congress should seek cuts in agricultural spending but protect growers from volatile prices and low yields by retaining a safety net when it writes a new farm law this year, a Reuters survey released on Wednesday found.
The random survey of 462 farmers and ranchers at the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting in Honolulu found 39.4 percent want the current program to continue, with some cuts.
A total of 36.4 percent of respondents said they would support converting the safety net to a revenue-insurance system.
The current farm law, which entered force in 2008, includes a combination of direct payments to farmers, subsidies triggered by low prices, and government-subsidized crop insurance.
"I think there are some areas where we can cut spending, but we've got to keep the safety net," said farmer John Wills of Shelby County, Kentucky.
The farm law expires this fall and lawmakers, as well as budget hawks, environmentalists and small-farm advocates, are looking for balanced reforms.
Agriculture Committee leaders in Congress wrote a farm bill among themselves last fall for inclusion in a deficit-reduction package that was to be written by a budget "supercommittee".
It would have replaced the current farm program with a compromise package that included a new crop-insurance plan. But the 12-member committee, which would have fast-tracked legislation through Congress, failed to reach an agreement.
Congress must vote on a new bill or see programs expire in a weak economy and a presidential election year. It could be tough to pass a new bill, because there will be less money for farm programs than was allowed for the 2008 law.
Farmers interviewed for the survey said they recognized that high commodity prices likely meant that cuts to traditional price supports were on the way. Some lawmakers have argued for protecting farmers from certain revenue shortfalls and offering insurance for catastrophic losses.
"I know there have to be cuts, and I'd like to see strong crop insurance as a safety net," said Gale Koelling, president of the Washington County, Illinois, Farm Bureau. "It probably costs the government less."
Almost half of the survey participants supported shifting the emphasis of the farm program to protecting farms from revenue loss rather than setting prices.
Only 9.5 percent of farmers supported putting a floor on prices as the primary goal of the bill, and 21.4 percent said the law should encourage increased production of food to meet rising global needs.
AFBF President Bob Stallman told reporters that estimates have shown that food output must increase 70 percent by mid-century to feed a world population expected to exceed 9 billion.
"I think we've got a demand factor that is built in now," Stallman said. He said "everything is on the table" as Congress writes the new law.
(Reporting By Emily Stephenson, additional reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Dale Hudson)