WASHINGTON, D.C. — White House and Congressional negotiations to raise the federal debt ceiling and reduce spending could have an immediate effect on the next farm bill.

“We’re picking up more and more that the farm bill is going to be intertwined very closely with this,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association. “A lot of people on the Hill now are saying that once the numbers come out — whether it is a short-term or long-term deal — it will trigger some actions if not all the action on the farm bill.”

Debt negotiation will shape next farm billGuenther said that negotiators are targeting cuts in the $30-billion range for farm programs and $20 something billion for nutrition programs. He said it was too soon to know if farm bill programs important to the fresh produce industry — notably the $55 million per year Specialty Crop Block Grant Program — will be cut.

“I would argue we have a lot of very broad support on both sides of the aisle,” he said.

The accelerated pace could result in the completion of the farm bill as early as August, he said.

He said the pivotal question is whether negotiators will tell House and Senate Agriculture Committees exactly where in the farm bill to cut or whether they will give them latitude to target cuts themselves.

“Will they tell the committee, ‘You shall cut direct payments, crop insurance and SNAP (food stamp program),’ or will they give them instructions saying cut this amount and most of it has to come out of three or four categories, or will they say, here are your numbers, you’ve got 30 days or 60 days or a week to do it,” he said.

Direct payments to program crop producers and federal outlays for crop insurance are the two primary focus areas for cuts to farm bill programs, he said. Lawmakers may remove stimulus-related increases to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Guenther noted that in the fiscal 2012 House agricultural appropriations bill, no lawmakers proposed any amendments that targeted cuts to specialty crop block grants.

On the other hand, reductions in federal funding on agricultural research may hurt specialty crop interests.

Guenther said the new farm bill will be different than the 2008 version, when the industry was able to create programs it wanted for inclusion.

“This will be a fight to survive and keep our levels and move on to the next farm bill,” Guenther said.