The 2012 Farm Bill will be uniquely challenging. Our nation’s enormous deficit has mandated that MAJOR spending cuts take place across all programs. The fast-paced House side has proposed some significant changes including disproportionate cuts to agriculture. While it’s recognized that agriculture, like everything else, will undergo budget cuts, Chairwoman Stabenow is standing firm that ag must not be unfairly cut in budget negotiations. For now, all some of us can do is wait. Drafting a bill as extensive as the Farm Bill requires research into a lot of programs that cover things from nutrition to conservation to farming. In our current economic climate, it’s more important than ever to establish priorities and gain input from stakeholders and those directly affected. One way that law makers gather information about the pertinent subject matter is to hold hearings. We have held a hearing for the Farm Bill almost every week since I’ve been here. Last week was the most exciting and interesting hearing of them all. Of course, I’m biased. The State of Livestock in America, was one of my special projects. With a topic as broad as livestock, it’s impossible to fit all of the important issues into a single 2-hour time period. But, we were able to recruit witnesses from pork, poultry, beef, and packing and bring together a diverse panel. Certain issues came up over and over again. One topic of heated debate was the proposed GIPSA rule, a rule that will change certain parts of livestock production and marketing. Another hot topic involved the price of corn, potential feed shortages, and the relationship to ethanol. Importantly, livestock producers had the opportunity to talk about the most useful programs supported by the Farm Bill. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides assistance to producers to help them improve their facilities and, among other things, meet the often challenging environmental regulations. Rick Sietsema from Saranac, MI testified on behalf of local turkey and hog producers. Other important issues that came up during the hearing included disease traceability, food safety, disaster programs (to assist farms impacted by drought, flood, fire, etc.), and veterinary shortages in rural areas. You can find a rebroadcast of the hearing on the Ag committee website: http://ag.senate.gov/site/calendar.html.