Rep. Frank Lucas Criticizes Ending Direct Payments to Farmers in Letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack

Feb 26, 2009

Washington, DC – Yesterday, Ranking Member Frank Lucas sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, expressing great concern about the Obama administration’s position on eliminating direct payments to producers.  Tuesday night, in his address to a joint session of the 111th Congress, President Obama called for ending direct payments.  This comes just days after Secretary Vilsack made a speech to a joint meeting of the National Association of Wheat Growers and the U.S. Wheat Associates Boards advising farmers that they should be thinking about developing other sources of income rather than direct payments.

“I have real concerns about this administration’s position on eliminating direct payments to our producers, which would be detrimental to their livelihoods.  Our farmers and ranchers are some of the hardest working people in the U.S. and they are struggling to make a living in a difficult economy.  Yet, it’s clear that both Secretary Vilsack and President Obama don’t understand the problems facing our agriculture community.  And, they absolutely don’t understand how important rural communities are to our economy,” said Ranking Member Frank Lucas.

The complete letter to Sec. Vilsack is included below.

February 25, 2009

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
Room 200-A Jamie L. Whitten Building
1400 Independence Avenue, S.E
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

It is with great concern that I write to you about the administration’s clear position on eliminating direct payments to our producers.  It also seems clear that during an economic crisis, this administration is intent on helping everyone, but those who live and work in rural America.  Quite frankly, I expected more from an administration that claims to champion the cause of economic recovery for all.

Last night, President Obama told the American people that they “don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis because [they] live it every day.”  That is true for our farmers and ranchers who live in rural America.  They are some of the hardest working people in the country and they are, indeed, struggling to make a living every day.  However, it seems that you and the Administration are not, and that you, in fact, do need to hear a list of statistics.  Those statistics are called commodity prices and, in case you weren’t aware, their trends are captured on the futures market, not the stock market.  To give you a recap, commodity prices have dropped significantly over the last year.  And, the agriculture community has nervously watched this price drop while inputs have stayed the same or increased.

At a time when the USDA recently reported that U.S. net farm income is down 20% from last year, it is irresponsible to even think of eliminating the one stable form of support for our producers.  The economic crisis that now befalls our entire country is not just limited to the East and West coasts, to the bankers and mortgage houses, but it grips the farmers and rural communities that are the backbone of this great country.  Our producers use these direct payments to get credit for their whole operations.  Direct payments allow farmers to show bankers and Farm Credit that they have the income to repay their loans.  And, direct payments provide producers with the flexibility to respond to market signals when choosing crops. 

My goal for American agriculture is simple:  I want the farmers and ranchers of this country to continue to provide all Americans with the safest, most abundant food, feed, fiber and even fuel supply in the world.  I do not think, especially during these dark days of our economy, it is time to be tinkering around with the most stable component of our farm safety net.  It is not the time to be risking our farmers’ livelihoods to pay for the mistakes of a few in other sectors of our economy.  Instead, producers need to know that they can continue to rely on direct payments as a proven and stable economic base in uncertain times.

I urge you to rethink your position on eliminating direct payments to our farmers and ranchers.  As you begin your tenure as Secretary of Agriculture, it is critically important that you protect the resources and progress that we have made in the last three farm bills.


Frank D. Lucas
Ranking Member

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