The emergence of farm policy reform as a major early initiative of the Obama administration would have been difficult to anticipate when the new president was inaugurated. After all, discussion of agricultural matters was nearly completely absent during the long presidential primary contest and the principal farm programs, mainly in The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, continue through the 2012 crop year. Current extreme economic difficulties and financial sector woes made a focus on farm policy reform appear most unlikely.

Yet, reforming agricultural policy has emerged as an early target for budget cutting by President Obama. In his Feb. 24 address before a joint session of Congress, agriculture was a poster child for prospective budget cuts. "In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them," he said. Apparently, "agribusinesses" mean large farms. In the 2010 fiscal year White House budget submitted shortly thereafter, Mr. Obama proposed phasing out annual direct payments made to farmers with more than $500,000 in annual sales.

Preliminary reactions by leading farm state senators from the president’s own party suggest the proposal is a long shot, particularly since the farm program does not expire for several years. Whether the proposed cuts are "dead on arrival" or mark the beginning of a fresh and healthy look at U.S. farm policy remains to be seen.

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